Study: Mandatory minimums cost Florida $100 million as deaths, arrests rise

mandatory minimum drug sentencing
The James Madison Institute finds no positives from jailing users.

Low-level drug incarcerations required by mandatory minimum sentencing costs Florida more than $100 million annually.

That’s according to a study from the James Madison Institute suggesting the tough stance failed in its chief objectives.

Report authors Greg Newburn and Sal Nuzzo say lawmakers in the name of fiscal conservatism must reevaluate its requirements.

“The current approach has resulted in costly and unintended consequences for Florida,” said Nuzzo, vice president of Policy for JMI.

“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.”

Florida continues to jail a high number of recreational drug users, rather than focusing on major traffickers, the study reports.

Looking at Office of Program Policy Analysis and Government Accountability statistics, authors of the report found 74 percent of inmates serving sentences for opioid trafficking never served time before.

Half had previously served probation for possession or had never been sentenced to probation before.

Some 84 percent of those sentenced had no violent offenses on their record.

These individuals face a low risk for recidivism.

Yet Florida’s minimum sentencing laws put users caught with a serious stash behind bars for much of their life. Someone arrested with 25 grams of Oxycodone faces a minimum of 15 years. Some with 28 grams of opiates faces 25 years.

If the intention of minimum sentencing was reducing overdoses and drug-related crime, deaths and arrests undermine any sign of success.

The overall drug-induced death rate in Florida increased 150 percent between 1999 and 2015, the study shows. Meanwhile, prescription drug arrests jumped from around 6,000 in 2002 to more than 25,000 in 2010.

Newburn, State Policy Director for Families Against Mandatory Minimums, said Florida in the 1970s took a tough stance on dugs. So did New York and Michigan, but those states since backed off hardliner policies.

“New York and Michigan have both recognized the experiment failed, and repealed their laws,” Newburn said. “Florida, unfortunately, still pretends the strategy has merit.”

Meanwhile, a growing opioid crisis in Florida and across the nation helped fuel those dire trends. The Centers for Disease Control say opioids accounted for 68 percent of overdose deaths in 2017. And Florida in recent years led the nation in opioid-related deaths.

Jacob Ogles

Jacob Ogles has covered politics in Florida since 2000 for regional outlets including SRQ Magazine in Sarasota, The News-Press in Fort Myers and The Daily Commercial in Leesburg. His work has appeared nationally in The Advocate, Wired and other publications. Events like SRQ’s Where The Votes Are workshops made Ogles one of Southwest Florida’s most respected political analysts, and outlets like WWSB ABC 7 and WSRQ Sarasota have featured his insights. He can be reached at [email protected].


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