Arizona has some of the strictest mandatory drug sentencing laws in the country. Are they working? Research shows that mandatory prison time does not reduce crime or drug use—it can make both worse.

Key Points:

  • Many mandatory minimum sentencing laws, particularly for drug offenses, were created to address problems of drug use, abuse, and drug-related criminal offenses.
  • For drug distribution, Arizona’s drug offenders stay in prison an average of four to five years. The national average for a distribution offense is 15 months.
  • Mandatory prison schemes can be triggered in a number of ways, primarily by quantity of drug or multiple offenses. Arizona’s threshold drug amounts that trigger mandatory drug sentencing are low.
  • Prison may be appropriate for some drug offenders, but often, Arizona judges’ hands are tied in trying to make a determination on an appropriate sentence due to mandatory sentencing laws.
  • Safety valve is an exception to mandatory sentencing whereby courts can bring about individualized justice in instances where the court deems a mandatory sentence to be inappropriate.