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Press Release

Fentanyl Bill Would Be a Disastrous Return to War-on-Drugs Tactics

Increasing mandatory minimums would drive up mass incarceration without substantively halting the opioid crisis.

April 11, 2018

New York, N.Y. –  Lawmakers on Capitol Hill are meeting today to discuss legislation that would make it easier for prosecutors to apply mandatory minimum sentences to people who distribute or sell fentanyl, a dangerous synthetic opioid. The Brennan Center for Justice at NYU Law has issued several seminal reports finding that mandatory minimums — which remove discretion from judges and lead to longer prison terms — do not work. Such laws do not prevent crime, and serve only to drive up the number of people in prison.
The bill is sponsored by Sen. John Kennedy (R-La.), and co-sponsored by Sens. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.), Bill Cassidy (R-La.), Dean Heller (R-Nev.), Ben Sasse (R-Neb.), Orrin Hatch (R-Utah), and Tom Cotton (R-Ark.).
Senior Counsel Ames Grawert of the Brennan Center’s Justice Program had the following statement:
“This isn’t a new tactic. The proposal dredges up some of the most reckless ideas from the ‘War on Drugs,’ under the belief that they might work this time. The approach is completely mistaken and not based on facts. Lowering the bar for imposing mandatory minimum sentences will do nothing to halt the deadly dangers of fentanyl. Instead, it will put more people behind bars, entrenching mass incarceration without making communities any safer and without providing needed treatment and support for those suffering from substance use disorders. The threat of new proposals involving the death penalty fails for the same reason. It’s yet another form of punishment that’s been proven ineffective, and is meted out with unequal and disastrous results.
“We must confront the opioid emergency as the health crisis it truly is, and invest in proven approaches like prevention and treatment rather than failed tactics of the past. Politicians need to act now to support these solutions before this devastating problem gets any worse.”
The Brennan Center recently released a proposal for Congress to tackle the opioid epidemic, which relies on prevention and treatment rather than over-incarceration. For more information, see the Brennan Center’s research on crime and the overuse of incarceration.

For more information or to connect with a Brennan Center expert, contact Rebecca Autrey at or 646–292–8316.