Florida has the third-largest prison system in the nation, yet crime rates are at a 41-year historical low. This contradiction has many lawmakers puzzled, according to a recent Sun-Sentinel article, especially with an estimate that the Florida prison population will grow by 5,000 inmates by mid-2017.
Now the Florida Senate is at odds to determine the cause of the increased incarcerations and what needs to be done about the already overcrowded prison system before it costs the state another $58 million.
One Side of the Story: A New Sheriff in Town
According to the Sentinel article, Senate President Don Gaetz believes that the new Broward County Sheriff and new county judges are cracking down on more criminals and making more arrests and convictions. Broward County was the leader in new prison sentences between 2012 and 2013. This year, Broward continues to lead the state in new incarcerations.
Drug trafficking and possession charges are among the most prevalent non-violent crimes in the state that come with mandatory minimum jail sentences. In the first half of 2013, the Florida Department of Law Enforcement (FDLE) reported 5,694 drug-related crimes in Broward County alone: 8.7 percent of the statewide total and second only to Miami-Dade County.
The Other Side: Low-Tolerance Policies for Minor Offenses
Some lawmakers believe that the increase in arrests and prison sentences stems from strict mandatory minimum sentences for non-violent drug offenses. The mandatory minimum sentence for the lowest quantity drug trafficking offense is three years. There is controversy over whether or not the threshold for the amount of drugs being trafficked should be increased to decrease the number of first-time drug offenses that result in jail terms.
Currently, the minimum amounts for drug trafficking charges are:
- 28 grams of cocaine;
- 25 pounds or 300 plants of marijuana;
- four grams of opium, oxycodone, hydrocodone, or heroin;
- 14 grams of methamphetamine (meth); and
- one gram of LSD.
Senators are also looking to pass legislation to reduce the mandatory minimum sentence for drug possession.
Don’t Be a Part of Florida’s Prison Statistics Without Defending Your Rights
Legislators are looking to enact bills to decrease the mandatory minimum sentences for drug trafficking. At the same time, other bills are being sought to increase the minimum amounts of controlled substances that qualify as drug trafficking charges. However, it is unclear whether these measures will help make a dent in the Florida prison system population.
Criminal defense attorney Jose Izquierdo says, “It is important to constantly monitor changes in the law and trends in our legal community. When hiring a lawyer you want a lawyer who is knowledgeable in the law but also equally familiar and knowledgeable with that particular legal community.”
The Law Offices of Izquierdo & Marin, PA helps South Floridians charged with drug crimes defend their right to a fair trial and sentencing. Call 954-527-9995 or contact us online to schedule a free confidential consultation about your arrest and pending charges.