George Gibbs Center for Economic Prosperity

JMI S⁠t⁠udy: Manda⁠t⁠ory M⁠i⁠n⁠i⁠mum Sen⁠t⁠enc⁠i⁠ng No⁠t⁠ Work⁠i⁠ng ⁠i⁠n Flor⁠i⁠da

By: Guest Author / 2019


February 19, 2019

With Florida facing an opioid crisis, one of the leading think tanks in Florida is calling for reforming mandatory minimum sentences.

The James Madison Institute (JMI), a group based out of Tallahassee that supports free market solutions, unveiled a study on Tuesday which finds that mandatory minimum sentences are not working in the Sunshine State.

JMI noted that Florida “spends more than $100 million annually incarcerating low-level drug offenders serving mandatory minimums” while the study by Greg Newburn, the state policy director of Families Against Mandatory Minimums (FANN) and Sal Nuzzo, JMI’s vice president of  policy finds “mandatory minimums have failed to achieve their intended purposes.”

“Mandatory sentencing laws were adopted in the 1970s to reduce drug-related crimes but instead, have continuously shown to expedite spending on corrections and increase the population of the incarcerated by arresting low-level drug offenders,” JMI insisted. “The overall drug-induced death rate in Florida increased by 150 percent in the 16 years between 1999 and 2015. Additionally, prescription drug arrests skyrocketed from around 6,000 in 2002 to more than 25,000 in 2010. By FY 2010-11, drug ad­missions to Florida prisons were twice what they were in 1996.”

Both of the authors of the study weighed in on Tuesday on their findings.

“It is both wise and practical for Florida to follow numerous other conservative states and reform our mandatory minimum sentencing laws in ways that will both improve public safety and promote better use of taxpayer dollars,” Nuzzo said. “The current approach has resulted in costly and unintended consequences for Florida. We can take a cue from policymakers in states around the country, as well as those in the federal government, who have shown that rethinking mandatory minimum policies can result in reductions in both crime and prison populations.”

“Along with New York and Michigan, Florida was one of the first states to experiment with mandatory minimum drug laws. Forty years later, New York and Michigan have both recognized the experiment failed, and repealed their laws. Florida, unfortunately, still pretends the strategy has merit. I am grateful to the James Madison Institute for publishing this study, which I hope will guide lawmakers as they continue to search for answers to Florida’s ongoing drug problem.” said Newburn.

JMI noted that “Florida is also not using mandatory minimums to lock up only major drug traffickers” and pointed to 2012 report by Florida’s Office of Program Policy Analysis and Government Accountability (OPPAGA) focused on inmates serving mandatory sentences for opioid trafficking.

“According to the report, 74 percent of these inmates had never been to prison previously. Half had either never been on probation or had been on probation solely for drug possession, and 84 percent had no current or past violent offenses,” JMI noted. “The report concluded the majority of such inmates ‘had minimal prior criminal involvement and substance abuse problems’ and were at ‘low risk for recidivism.’ Because mandatory minimums have failed to achieve their intended purposes, many conservative groups have encouraged the legislature to reform mandatory minimum drug laws. One such reform would give judges, under compelling circumstances, a degree of flexibility to sentence drug offenders appropriately. Restoring some discretion to drug sentencing by adopting a ‘safety valve’ will help divert some of these inmates to more efficient and more effective sanctions, including long-term treatment and rehabilitation. Several states, including Georgia and Mississippi, already have safety valves for drug trafficking, and they’ve worked to reduce crime and unnecessary incarceration.”

JMI also called for action from the Florida Legislature to reform mandatory minimums.

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