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February 23, 2017

Florida legislators talk of repealing mandatory minimums for nonviolent offenses

As reported in this local article, headlined "In major Tallahassee reversal, mandatory sentences called a waste of taxpayer money," there is a notable movement to repeal some mandatory minimum sentences in the Sunshine State.  Here are the details:

Cynthia Powell is serving a 25-year sentence for selling 35 pills for $300 in 2002. Her incarceration at Homestead Correctional Institution costs taxpayers an average of $18,064 per year — or $451,600 by the time she is released in 2023.

The Florida Senate Criminal Justice Committee concluded Tuesday that’s money poorly spent. It voted unanimously for SB 290, which would end minimum mandatory sentences for nonviolent offenses like Powell’s.  The measure represents a major shift from the tough-on-crime bills of the last two decades that filled prisons and created what both liberals and conservatives now believe has been a subclass of lifers in jail and a waste of tax money.  The “prison diversion bill” would save the state $131 million in avoided costs and put 1,001 fewer people in jail, said Sen. Daryl Rouson, D-St. Petersburg, the bill’s sponsor.

The measure would allow judges to depart from the 118 minimum mandatory sentences in Florida law but excludes drug traffickers.  It restores the Florida Sentencing Commission, which existed from 1982 to 1997, but limits its scope to determining the severity ranking that adds points to an offender’s record based on certain offenses. Anyone who commits a violence offense, is not eligible for the court’s leniency.

Reforming Florida’s legacy of harsh sentencing is one of several reforms being pushed by a coalition of liberal and conservative advocates that were passed unanimously by the Senate committee on Tuesday. “We are in an interesting juncture in our society and the Legislature, where Democrats and Republicans in both chambers agree that it’s really time to look at our criminal justice system and start to make some reforms,” said Sen. Randolph Bracy, D-Orlando, chairman of the committee....

Greg Newburn, director of Families Against Mandatory Minimums, a conservative group that supports ending mandatory minimum sentences for nonviolent crimes, said “dozens of states have already made the decision to move in this area.” They include Georgia, Oklahoma and North Carolina. “The results are uniform,” he said. “We get lower crime. We get smaller prison populations. They’ve closed prisons and saved tens of millions of dollars.”

If Powell, the Homestead inmate, had sold two fewer pills in 2002, she would have gotten a 15-year sentence, he said. If she sold them today, it would be a seven-year sentence. Instead, she won’t be released until 2023. “There are many other people in similar situations who simply don’t need to be there,” he said. “It’s a waste of money. We receive no public safety benefit whatsoever.”

His organization supports full repeal of mandatory minimum drug laws — as states such as Michigan, New York and Delaware have done — but he considers the piecemeal progress proposed by the Senate “a good reform.”

Jim DeBeaugrine of the Center for Advanced Justice, a sentencing reform advocacy group, warned the committee that giving drug offenders shorter sentences will only keep them out of prison if they receive treatment for substance abuse and mental health issues. “If you try to do it on the cheap, the results of this outcome are compromised,” he said. “The only way you will ever end the issue of mass incarceration is you’ve got to stop putting so many people in prison.”

February 23, 2017 at 08:18 AM | Permalink

Comments

Spend $450,000, save $millions in damages, as 200 crimes a year take place inside the prison walls, and not outside. Return on investment (ROI) greater than any other in human history. Buy a gun for $300 and make $3000 in a bank robbery, the ROI is orders of magnitude smaller.

Posted by: David Behar | Feb 23, 2017 8:57:37 AM

I demand to know the home address of Jim DeBeaugrine. The advocates, asking that Cynthia Powell be released, must take her into their homes, in good neighborhoods. They may not dump this toxic person onto a poor neighborhood with political power too weak to resist.

Posted by: David Behar | Feb 23, 2017 9:02:47 AM

Behar, get off this list. We've seen you before. Go somewhere else, please.

Posted by: anon | Feb 23, 2017 9:29:16 AM

Many countries make resentencing of existing prisoners when the statutory punishment for the crime for which they were convicted is reduced a constitutional right. The U.S. went awry in not adopting the same principle.

Posted by: ohwilleke | Feb 23, 2017 9:48:23 AM

Anon. Get out of this country before you get rounded up. I am just concerned about your welfare with the Trump administration.

Posted by: David Behar | Feb 23, 2017 11:39:57 AM

Anon. Get out of this country before you get rounded up. I am just concerned about your welfare with the Trump administration.

Posted by: David Behar | Feb 23, 2017 11:39:58 AM

The convicted crime may be non violent. The indicted crime may be violent. Any such rule change should be based on the indicted crime, the one closest to reality, least likely to be yet another lawyer fiction.

Posted by: David Behar | Feb 23, 2017 12:06:37 PM

Anon. You will like this one. I returned because Bill Otis asked me to. Someone has to speak for crime victims to this group of self dealing lawyers.

Posted by: David Behar | Feb 23, 2017 12:08:55 PM

I was going to make a substantive comment then I read the comments and changed my mind. Who in their right mind is going to be open to thinking after all that drivel.

Posted by: Daniel | Feb 23, 2017 4:46:59 PM

@David.

I dislike you. Not because you say controversial things, I'm OK with that. Nor because you speak for crime victims, I'm OK with that. But it is annoying the way you come into comment threads and dominate them with numerous comments that are off-topic, filled with drivel, and generally mean-spirited. In my view it is a form of trolling and should be banned.

Posted by: Daniel | Feb 23, 2017 4:49:47 PM

@Daniel. Please, see my first remark. It is on the topic of mandatory sentencing for non-violent crime. Criminals do not specialize.

My second is about the hypocrisy of the advocates named in the post.

You have no criticism for the personal attacks that were irrelevant to the topic. Nor is your remark relevant to the topic of the post. You are just biased.

Posted by: David Behar | Feb 23, 2017 5:09:25 PM

The fruit of the above decarceration movement. Death.

http://www.chicagotribune.com/news/local/breaking/ct-man-61-found-shot-dead-in-garage-in-south-lawndale-20170222-story.html

Posted by: David Behar | Feb 23, 2017 7:23:04 PM

Behar,

Why so bitter? You have nothing better to di than to advocate for cruelty and policies that most rational folks have rejected long ago. You, like our Cheeto-coifed idiot president, pander to those who lack education and brains and are therefore susceptible to racist paranoia and appeals to White resentment. Shame on you. You should and do know better. Just like Bill Otis.

It is telling that many favoring reform are well-educated, upper-middle class folks. It is not our friends and relatives who need criminal justice reform. We have a lot to lose from crime, yet do not succumb to demogogues, like you and Otis and their idiotic arguments by anecdote. We get involved in these issues because, unlike you, we care about those less fortunate. And for many of us, we were brought up right in the Compassionate Jewish tradition.

Once again, shame on you. There is a special place in hell for those who know better yet pander to the rubes.

Mark

Posted by: Mark38@gmail.com | Feb 23, 2017 10:26:45 PM

I second Mark's take. Many of us here are lawyers but do not regularly represent criminal defendants. And criminal lawyers do not benefit financially from fewer prosecutions and fewer threats of draconian sentencing. So, what do you mean by "self-dealing," David? Are you a crime victim who has found it difficult to move on? If so you have my sympathies, but that status does not give you the moral right to try to ruin others' lives by advocating draconian sentences. There are many virtuous crime victims who speak up for second chances and compassion. Stop it with the hiding behind the skirts of victims generally. You are an amoral lout.

Posted by: Eric | Feb 23, 2017 10:38:08 PM

David,

Ps, Concird Law School? Is that accredited? No wonder you rant like an under-educated ignoramous. Where is your medical degree from? Grenada? Not only are you compassionless, you appear to be a fraud.

Posted by: Eric | Feb 23, 2017 10:47:15 PM

Mark -- honestly not sure if your comment is satire. If not...

"It is telling that many favoring reform are well-educated, upper-middle class folks. It is not our friends and relatives who need criminal justice reform. We have a lot to lose from crime..."

Please do a quick google search on who bears the disproportionate burden of crime. It's *not* "upper-middle class folks." It's the poor. Both criminals and victims of crime are disproportionately poor minorities. Policies like shorter sentences and less law enforcement disproportionately benefit poor minority criminals and disproportionately burden poor minority law abiding citizens. Upper-middle class "folks" like you get to live in newly-safe gentrifying neighborhoods in their 20s, then move out to the suburbs in their 30s-50s, and then move to gated communities in Florida in their 60s. You are *not* the people who face the negative consequences of your polices. You get to release criminals into poor neighborhoods, ignore the result, and talk about your own virtue while shaking your head at the rubes who disagree with you.

Obviously, there are good arguments on both sides of the sentencing/enforcement debate, but it is not a debate between "virtuous" upper-middle class liberals and uneducated lower-middle class rubes. The debate is intra-class, intra-race, and intra-party. If you're blind to the real harm that lower sentences and decreased enforcement will have on the poor, then you're not actually engaging the issues.

10 seconds of quick google search is a taste of how the debate actually occurs outside of your safe upper-middle class bubble:

https://www.washingtonpost.com/local/public-safety/baltimore-cops-pressured-to-police-differently-but-also-begged-to-clear-the-corners/2016/08/25/9e2372da-631e-11e6-96c0-37533479f3f5_story.html

https://poll.qu.edu/new-york-city/release-detail?ReleaseID=2297

Posted by: Levin | Feb 23, 2017 11:07:36 PM

Personal remarks represent defeat in the traverse. In a tribunal, they would be rejoindered by the judge. A confused jury would take the judge's comment as a sign of which way to decide. By these remarks, the lawyer would have committed legal malpractice. Lawyers are easy to set off.

Why are so many people angry, and wish me gone? Simple. An effective drop in the crime rate, such as happened after mandatory sentencing guidelines, resulted in massive lawyer unemployment. The lawyers are defending their pay.

If the lawyer could start to listen, I can show it how to quadruple its average income, and to elevate its effectiveness, and public esteem 10 fold.

Posted by: David Behar | Feb 23, 2017 11:56:27 PM

If Prof. Berman explicitly allows it, I can discuss Concord Law. You have never seen anything like it in this country.

Posted by: David Behar | Feb 24, 2017 12:03:28 AM

@Daniel. I am waiting for your criticism of the above off topic remarks.

Posted by: David Behar | Feb 24, 2017 12:05:35 AM

This is why they killed Socrates.

Posted by: Boffin | Feb 24, 2017 12:32:12 AM

Boffin. I love the lawyer. I am going to help it do better, no matter what fit it throws.

Posted by: David Behar | Feb 24, 2017 12:55:28 AM

@Eric and Mark. The lawyer profession in the USA is among the worst in the world. Sierra Leone has a better legal system. For example, they were instrumental in stopping a massive ebola epidemic. Compare to the laws the US lawyer passed that spread AIDS to millions of people, due to their irresponsible privileging homosexual sexual predators.

I am here to help you. Name any self declared goal of any legal subject. It is in abject failure in the USA. The entire country hates you. They want you gone. Stop bashing the one who can save and bring the profession into the modern age.

In your top law school, were you taught the technical meaning of the word, reason? Do you know why the word, reasonable, is the central doctrine of the common law? Neither did a Harvard Law grad with a PhD in Medieval Legal History from Oxford. I learned that in high school, in 10th Grade World History. I understand why you are so emotional. You are afraid for your salary. I understand.

Posted by: David Behar | Feb 25, 2017 1:00:21 AM

I am a mother of a son sentence to Florida harsh evil unfair sentence 10-20-life mandatory. was 17 disable.

Posted by: Mary Morss | Mar 17, 2017 3:49:33 PM

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