| Read Time: < 1 minute | Prison & Sentencing

Lowering the Prison Population

According to the U.S. Bureau of Justice Statistics the United States prison population is over two million people.  That is almost equivalent to the next two highest prison populations in the world COMBINED.  I know that as a country we always want to beat China (#2) and Russia (#3) but this is just absurd.  Is our population more deviant or do we need to reevaluation our sentencing philosophy? We have examined the idea of over criminalization in our blog previously, and the New York Times editorial on “Why Prison’s Are Shrinking” is showing how States are examining, sentencing and how they need not be a “one size fits all” process.   Sentencing reforms by states are being driven by statistics and data rather than gut reactions.  By expanding drug treatment and mental health services, and by improving probation, states are finding that they are actually able to save money by reducing the number of inmates that are being housed in their expensive prisons. Sentencing reform is a major project, but we need to make it a reality.  Drug treatment and better probation is but one step that needs to be taken.  Making a real effort to treat drug addicts rather than incarcerate them is the only way to win the war on drugs.  We also need to give our judiciary more autonomy to make the sentencing decisions that are appropriate.  The increase in madatory minimum sentencing is what drove our prison population and rethinking this type of sentencing is necessary to bring our prison population down.

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Overcriminalization, and the State of Florida

Grits for breakfast is a blog about the Texas criminal just system.  On March 23 they took a look at the recent Supreme Court opinion, Missouri v. Frye.  The Supreme Court ruled that criminal defense lawyers are required to convey a plea offer to their client.  If they do not, then this may be grounds for obtaining a new trial.  I do not think that anyone has any problems with this opinion.  All defense attorneys should tell their clients about all plea offers. The blogger does look at little deeper and is astonished that the criminal conduct of Frye was related to a felony driving on a suspended license, and was looking at up to four years in prison. That’s right because Mr. Frye had previously been convicted at least two previous times for driving on a suspended license, he was looking at up to four years in prison.  I know what your thinking, Missouri must be some backwards state to have a felony, and looking at up to four years for driving on a suspended license.  Well guess what Floridians, not only are you too looking at felony charges for this type of conduct, but your maximum penalty is not four but FIVE YEARS in the Department of Corrections. Clearly people should only be driving if their license is valid, but the possibility of becoming a convicted felon for this conduct seems a bit extreme.  It also has no effect on deterrence.  Currently 1 in 7 Floridians have a suspended license.  I agree with the blogger, this is “overcriminalization run amok.”

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| Read Time: 2 minutes | Prison & Sentencing

Florida Legislature Passes Bill That Would Allow Early Release

The Florida Legislature has passed a bill that would allow for prison sentence modification.  Both the House and Senate, has passed bills that would allow for the early release of prisoners held for non-violent offenses.  The bill creates a new law that requires the Florida Department of Corrections to develop a reentry program designed to allow nonviolent offenders to have their incarceration reduced  by allowing them to participate in an intensive substance abuse treatment program. The reentry program must include prison-based substance abuse treatment, general education development and adult basic education courses. The program must also include vocational training and decision making and personal development training. In order to qualify for the program the prisoner must meet certain criteria. They must be nonviolent offender which has been defined as a third degree felony offense that is not a forcible felony.  The prisoner must have completed at least half of their sentence and they must have been identified as having the need for substance abuse treatment. If the nonviolent offender meets the eligibility requirements, the department of corrections must then notify the sentencing court and get their approval for participation in the program.  The state attorney is also notified and may file a written objection for the prisoner’s participation in the program. The prisoner must complete at least six months in the reentry program and if they complete the program then the sentencing judge may order a modification of the sentence to include drug offender probation.  If the offender violates the probation then the court may revoke probation and impose any legal sentence that they see fit. It seems as though the Florida legislature is finally realizing that addicts needs rehabilitation and not just punishment.  A person who is able to cope with their addiction is less likely to reoffend and will save the tax payers money by reducing recidivism.

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| Read Time: 2 minutes | Prison & Sentencing

Florida Crime at 40-Year Low, So Why are Prison Populations Up?

Gov. Rick Scott just distributed a press release noting that Florida’s crime rate is the lowest it has been in 40 years. Scott proudly delivered the news, but it comes at a time when Florida’s prisons are incredibly overcrowded, with 104,000 inmates in the state. If crime is the lowest it has been since the 1960s, then why is Florida housing the nation’s third largest population of prisoners? The Governor’s press release indicated that violent crimes fell over 10 percent from 2009 to 2010. Violent offenses include assault and battery, robbery and murder. Nonviolent crimes are down, too. Nonviolent offenses fell six percent; those crimes include drug crimes, burglary, larceny, grand theft, prostitution, as well as nonfatal DUI. With all of these statistical improvements, you would think that fewer convictions mean fewer inmates. However, Florida’s prison population has actually been steadily rising. The Florida Department of Corrections reports that it housed 95,221 inmates during the 07-08 fiscal year. In 08-09, that number ballooned to 99,570. In the most recent reporting year, 09-10, 101,323 people were incarcerated in Florida prisons. Many believe that Florida’s present inmate population is near 104,000. With the rising prison populations and lowering crime rate, it appears there is one conclusion: the criminal justice system is throwing the book at people accused of crimes – even nonviolent offenders. In fact, between 2004 and 2009, 70 percent of the newly admitted inmates were nonviolent offenders. When looking at the whole picture, it is clear that those facing charges for crimes – even nonviolent ones such as pharmaceutical drug charges – are commonly facing substantial prison sentences. Now, more than ever, it is crucial for accused people to adopt a strong defense strategy, so they may achieve the best possible outcome and aim to avoid time in prison. Sources: Orlando Sentinel, April 26, 2011. Florida Dept. of Corrections, www.dc.state.fl.us.

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