Drug Control:

Difficulties in Denying Federal Benefits to Convicted Drug Offenders

GGD-92-56: Published: Apr 21, 1992. Publicly Released: May 15, 1992.

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Pursuant to a congressional request, GAO reviewed the: (1) implementation of Department of Justice guidelines that allow federal and state court judges discretion in imposing sentences to make convicted drug offenders ineligible to receive certain federal benefits; (2) impact that benefit denial has had on drug offenders; and (3) possible effects of making benefit denial a mandatory sanction on conviction of a drug offense.

GAO found that: (1) during the first 9 months that Justice guidelines were in effect, less than 1 percent of all drug offenders convicted in federal and state courts were given a sentence that included federal benefit ineligibility; (2) to increase federal and state court use of the discretionary sentencing authority, Justice funded demonstration grants and coordinated with other federal agencies to establish procedures for denying benefits and notifying state judicial officers on how to use the procedures; (3) federal law enforcement officials believe that the use of the sentencing authority by federal courts had little or no impact on most drug offenders sentenced because most convicted drug offenders were not receiving any of the federal benefits subject to denial, were believed to be traffickers and distributors receiving mandatory prison sentences much harsher than being denied access to federal benefits, and were serving their incarceration and benefit ineligibility sentences concurrently; (4) although there were few data available regarding the characteristics of the offenders and whether or not they were receiving federal benefits, drug offenders sentenced to benefit ineligibility resembled the characteristics of the universe of drug offenders and were more likely to be repeat offenders; and (5) it is uncertain whether the limited results that could be realized by proposals to eliminate judicial discretion in applying the sanction would be worth the costs. GAO also noted that it does not expect to see widespread withholding of federal benefits from drug offenders, since: (1) judges and criminal justice officials do not believe that the sentence would have much impact on many of the offenders; (2) many courts exclude first-time offenders from benefit denial; and (3) federal benefit administration policies and practices preclude the interruption or termination of benefits.

Matter for Congressional Consideration

  1. Status: Closed - Not Implemented

    Comments: The report was held by the House Select Committee on Narcotics, pending the introduction of amendments concerning benefit denial provisions. Effective April 1993, the committee disbanded.

    Matter: In deliberating on whether to eliminate court discretion in making convicted drug offenders ineligible to receive federal benefits, Congress needs to consider if the benefits that may be achieved would be worth the burden placed on the courts and administrative agencies.


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