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Joe Henderson: Rob Bradley’s sentencing reform push has merit

Bradley: “State prison needs to be reserved for the worst of the worst.”

The push by state Sen. Rob Bradley to reduce the penalties for some drug crimes is the right move at the right time. Let’s hope Florida lawmakers agree with the intent of SB 346, which Bradley has filed.

The state imposed stiff mandatory minimum sentences for drug convictions in the 1990s, and it seemed like a good idea at the time. The laws focused on drug kingpins and high-level traffickers. It sent a message that drug trafficking in Florida carried serious consequences.

Well, that was fine.

What wasn’t fine, though, was that mandatory sentencing took away judicial discretion. That led to thousands of long prison sentences for low-level drug crimes, and that set off unintended consequences.

“What this bill says is that there will be a judge … who will review all the particular facts, will make a decision on what is right in that particular case,” Bradley said.

“State prison needs to be reserved for the worst of the worst. Somewhere along the way, we have gotten in the habit of people going to state prison for things that in other countries and other states, they would not be going to state prison.”

This isn’t about letting dudes like El Chapo out early. It’s about common sense, from both a human and an economic standpoint.

Keeping people incarcerated isn’t cheap. Sometimes it isn’t even necessary. There is a growing consensus that treatment is a better option than spending potentially decades or more in prison for some drug crimes.

Oklahoma just released hundreds of prisoners who were serving time for relatively minor offenses.

Before the release, Oklahoma had the highest percentage of incarceration in the country. It’s something for Florida to think about.

While Bradley’s bill goes through the process of potentially becoming law, there are other ways to correct legislative over-reach. The Tampa Bay Times reported how hundreds of state inmates are serving long sentences because of laws no longer on the books.

The newspaper focused on Jomari DeLeon, three years into a mandatory 15-year sentence for selling 48 prescription tablets to an undercover cop. Somehow, that qualified as drug trafficking. She had no prior record, but the judge had no discretion in pronouncing sentence.

There are many cases like hers, and Gov. Ron DeSantis could push to commute her sentence and other similar ones. It would take his vote along with two Cabinet members, and it would show compassion and help reduce crowded prisons.

It’s time for reform, and Rob Bradley’s bill is a good step in that direction.

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I have a 45-year career in newspapers, including nearly 42 years at The Tampa Tribune. Florida is wacky, wonderful, unpredictable and a national force. It's a treat to have a front-row seat for it all.

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Contributors & reporters: Phil Ammann, Renzo Downey, Rick Flagg, A.G. Gancarski, Joe Henderson, Janelle Irwin, Jacob Ogles, Scott Powers, Bob Sparks, Andrew Wilson.
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