“Get Tough” Gets Expensive – Lakeland Ledger

Posted: September 10, 2010 in News and politics

Sentencing Laws: ‘Get Tough’ Gets Expensive

Published: Saturday, August 28, 2010 at 12:01 a.m.

Recently, in a brief span of time, an 18-year-old Gainesville man was sentenced to six years in prison for manslaughter and battery, a 23-year-old woman was sentenced to one year and a day in prison for vehicular manslaughter and a 19-year-old Satsuma woman was sentenced to 15 years for selling 25 hydrocodone pills to an undercover officer.

Why would selling a handful of pills draw vastly more prison time than taking a human life? Because Florida’s mandatory-minimum sentencing laws for drug offenses are among the toughest in the nation.

"The mandatory minimum for [trafficking] over 28 grams of Vicodin or oxycoden is 25 years," said Deborah Fleischaker, state legislative affairs director of Families Against Mandatory Minumums to a reporter. "In Texas it’s two [years]."

$103 MILLION A YEAR

Florida prisons house more than 5,000 inmates serving mandatory drug sentences at an annual cost to the taxpayers of $103 million a year.

There was discussion during the past session of the Florida Legislature about possible changes to the mandatory-minimum drug laws. But no action was taken. Given the costs involved, and the continuing budget crisis, criminal-justice officials believe the topic will come up next year.

"Last session, there was some discussion about reviewing them, Bill Cervone, state attorney for the 8th Judicial Circuit, told The Gainesville Sun. "Nothing came of them, but I expect them to continue next year. There is a real need for those kinds of penalties for the right people. I personally don’t like mandatory anything that ties the hands either of my office or of sentencing judges."

Mandatory-minimum sentencing is a legacy of the Florida Legislature’s determination to "get tough" on crime. But with the state going into its fourth year of multibillion-dollar revenue shortfalls, lawmakers must ask themselves how much longer taxpayers can afford Florida’s brand of lock-them-up-and-throw-away-the-key justice.

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