Drug Control

Difficulties in Denying Federal Benefits to Convicted Drug Offenders Gao ID: GGD-92-56 April 21, 1992

Under the Anti-Drug Abuse Act of 1988, federal and state judges can impose sentences that make convicted drug offenders ineligible for certain federal benefits, including government contracts and guaranteed student loans; excluded are veterans, social security, and welfare payments. Legislation has been introduced that would deny convicted drug dealers and users access to federal benefits regardless of the sentence imposed. To provide baseline information for deliberations on this bill, GAO (1) assesses the status of federal and state court and federal agency efforts to deny convicted drug offenders access to federal benefits, (2) examines available data for insight into the impact that benefit denial has had on drug offenders, and (3) presents data on the 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.


Our recommendations from this work are listed below with a Contact for more information. Status will change from "In process" to "Open," "Closed - implemented," or "Closed - not implemented" based on our follow up work.

Director: Team: Phone:

The Justia Government Accountability Office site republishes public reports retrieved from the U.S. GAO These reports should not be considered official, and do not necessarily reflect the views of Justia.