Legislation proposed to decrease minimum mandatory sentences for drug crimes

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By: Jake Stofan | Capitol News Service
November 13, 2017

Photo: MGN image

TALLAHASSEE, Fla. (CNS) -- Certain drug crimes come with mandatory minimum sentences; when a person is convicted, they have to serve a minimum term by law.

Some Florida lawmakers say the policies don't work, are overcrowding the state prisons and are costing tax payers millions of dollars.

Housing more than 100,000 inmates costs Florida tax payers $2.4 billion a year. Of those inmates, thousands have been given mandatory sentences for dealing drugs - and in some cases, for small amounts.

"It's become a prison industrial complex," said Dominic Calabro, the President of the Florida Tax Watch. "It's very, very costly."

Legislation filed for the 2018 session would allow judges to divert from minimum mandatory sentences for certain drug charges.

"This is a good way of giving judges appropriate digression and saving tax payers money," Calabro said.

One proposal allows judges to reduce sentences for the lowest mandatory minimum of three years. A second bill, sponsored by Senator Jeff Brandes, would apply to all drug-related mandatory minimums, but only for non-violent first offenders.

Other legislation on the table would only allow judges to reduce mandatory minimum sentences to one-third of their original length.

Opponents argue the current law sets possession amounts so high, no average users ever get a mandatory minimum.

As Barney T. Bishop of the Smart Justice Alliance argues, "For pot, you're talking about 25 pounds of pot up to 200 pounds."

But things can be different for individuals selling or possessing opiate prescriptions. When measured by weight, relatively small amounts can result in lengthy prison sentences, even for a first offense.

"Our bill simply allows judges to look at the individual facts of the case and figure out whether he's dealing with a drug kingpin or an addict," Senator Brandes said.

An estimated 1,500 Florida prisoners who are behind bars for selling painkillers have never previously been imprisoned. They're costing tax payers more than $29 million each year.

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