Nonviolent Drug Offenders Are Still Serving Decades in Florida Prisons, but That Could Soon Change
The passage of the First Step Act brought a number of much-needed criminal justice reforms at the federal level; such that Florida lawmakers are now considering enacting similar reforms throughout the state of Florida.
Florida’s prison population is currently close to a total of 1,000,000 inmates. A significant portion of these inmates are offenders serving mandatory minimum sentences; suffering behind bars for decades under mandatory minimum laws that have been since been reformed and reduced, and the results are devastating; individuals going to prison for the exact same crimes will be released before those convicted under these old, archaic laws; laws that put some small-time users in prison for decades for simply possessing a bottle of painkillers, for example.
State Lawmakers Once Barred From Retroactively Applying New Sentencing Laws
While the Florida legislature did reduce mandatory minimum sentencing for some drug trafficking crimes in 2014, a provision in the Florida Constitution prevented lawmakers from applying those changes retroactively to individuals who had already been sentenced. Fortunately, in November 2018, Florida voters passed Amendment 11, which repealed the constitutional provision that barred lawmakers from reducing sentences no longer considered just.
The “Florida First Step Act”
The federal First Step Act has also now inspired a number of Florida lawmakers to take steps to introduce additional state bills that would lead to the early release of inmates serving unfair, lengthy prison terms under these laws. One of them—the “Florida First Step Act”—would provide judges with the discretion necessary to depart for mandatory minimum sentencing laws in certain drug trafficking cases, for example, when the crime did not involve violence. In doing so, it would hand judges much-needed power to individually judge each individual case.
In addition, another introduced bill—S.B. 704—would automatically apply all criminal justice reforms retroactively. If this law passes, it could lead to some inmates being released immediately.
Finally, the “Dignity for Incarcerated Women Act” would provide a number of reforms to jails and prisons that house incarcerate women, such as requiring documentation when male guards are involved in cavity and pat-down searches. The bill is, in part, in response to a number of civil rights investigations have been initiated in connection with reports of sexual abuse at the women’s Lowell Correctional Institution.
Contact Our Experienced Florida Criminal Defense Attorneys to Find Out More
Still, a number of advocates are concerned that these measures do not go far enough in terms of addressing mental health and addiction issues and racial disparities. If you live in Florida and face unfair sentencing due to being accused of a crime, contact our experienced Orlando criminal defense attorneys at the Baez Law Firm today to find out how we can help.