Thursday, March 31, 2011

Required Reading on Florida & FAMM

If you only read one thing about FAMM's work in Florida, read this superb article by Jeff Gore in the Orlando Weekly.  It covers every aspect of mandatory minimum reform, from the introduction of a bill to the possibility of making a reform law retroactive.  It shares the story of Scott Earle, putting a human face on the problem.  It shares the history of Florida's horrible drug laws and the benefits of changing them.

We're still just at the beginning stages of getting bills moving, but with Florida's overstuffed prisons and jaw-dropping corrections costs, something's gotta give soon in the Sunshine State.

There are so many good parts, it's tempting to include the whole thing.  Here's just a small piece, explaining why new reform bills are revolutionary, and what we're up against.  Read it all, and share with friends:
HB 917 is a forward-thinking criminal-justice bill: It would create a reentry program for nonviolent offenders that would involve substance-abuse treatment, adult basic education courses, vocational training and other rehabilitation programs, and the bill could cut a prisoner's sentence by up to half. In its original form, the bill also called for the elimination of all mandatory minimum sentencing guidelines for non-violent 
drug offenses. The bill's sponsor, State Rep. Ari Porth, D-Coral Springs, says that the state could spend far less money on corrections - and furthermore, get far better results - if non-violent drug offenders were rehabilitated, rather than incarcerated. Despite having evidence to support his theory, it's a proposal he didn't dare present until this year.
"I think the fact that our state has a multi-billion dollar budget deficit is making this legislation, [which] wouldn't have been able to be talked about several years ago, something that's actually viable," he says. The argument was shot down by Florida's Speaker of the House, Dean Cannon, who appoints the committees that decide whether a bill gets to live or die. (In a March 21 budget allocation memo to House committee leaders, Cannon wrote: "The House budget will not revise adult sentencing policies, change inmate release schedules, or take any action that jeopardizes the long-term safety of the public to save money in the current fiscal year.") But the fact that the issue has been raised at all suggests a shifting mentality in Tallahassee regarding crime and punishment - even if it is one that's being driven primarily by fiscal necessity, rather than concern about criminal-justice policy.
With a budget of $2.4 billion, 
the Department of Corrections is the state's largest agency; consequently, it has earned a prominent place on Gov. Scott's chopping block (the governor's office did not reply to requests for comment on this story). Shortly after he was elected, Scott appointed a "Law and Order Transition Team" that recommended an overhaul of the state's mandatory minimum laws and in his budget proposal, he suggested cutting nearly 1,700 jobs from the Department of Corrections, which he says would save the state more than $80 million.