Florida’s Harsh Punishments for Drug Crimes Have Questionable Benefits

Prison sentences for non-violent drug crimes, like drug possession, drug sales and drug manufacturing, have substantially increased in the last 19 years. A new study from the Pew Center on the States analyzed sentencing trends for violent crimes and non-violent crimes across the states and found that the amount of time prisoners spend behind bars has increased by 36 percent since 1990.

In Florida, the increase is even more substantial and, by far, the highest in the nation. In 2009, Florida drug offenders spent 194 percent more time behind bars than they did in 1990. In 1990, Florida drug offenders served an average sentence of 9 months – in 2009, that sentence had increased to an average of 2.3 years in prison.

The sharp increase in prison sentences can be attributed to a prison overcrowding problem that Florida was facing in early 1990s. The state responded to the overcrowding by granting prisoners parole after serving an average of 30 percent of their sentences. When the parole program caused problems with reoffenders, the legislature reacted by passing a law that required prisoners to serve at least 85 percent of their sentences. The aggressive legislation increased overall prison sentences by 166 percent; and increased prison costs by $1.4 billion annually.

Longer Prison Sentences Do Not Reduce Crime

The recent Pew Study has determined that longer prison sentences for non-violent drug offenders do not necessarily keep our streets safe. The study analyzed the relationship between time served and its impact on public safety. The study compared crime rates in states that lengthened prison sentences and those that significantly reduced them.

The study found that the states that reduced incarceration times for non-violent offenders experienced dramatic reductions in crime. The results of the study reveal that for non-violent offenders incarceration isn’t the only answer. Treatment and rehabilitation programs may be better tools to reduce crime and protect the public.

Even though harsher penalties for non-violent drug crimes are probably not the answer for safer streets, that doesn’t mean being charged with an offense isn’t a serious matter, with serious consequences. If you or a loved one has been charged with a drug crime, contact an experienced attorney in your area to learn about your defense options.