Calling the recent wave of criminal justice reform legislation dealing with minimum sentences and post-incarceration necessary and long overdue, Florida’s 9th Judicial Circuit State Attorney candidate Ryan Williams weighed in and called for state attorneys to join in the political discussions.
“State attorneys need to add their voice and experiences to this important conversation,” Williams declared in an open letter on criminal justice reform that particularly called for the need to reform mandatory minimum sentencing laws dealing with drugs.
Williams, of Winter Garden, seeks to succeed departing State Attorney Aramis Ayala in the circuit covering Orange and Osceola counties.
“A generation of prosecutors and law enforcement officers responsible for protecting our community were raised in, and have now seen firsthand, what the ‘War on Drugs’ has contributed to mass incarceration. Many of our citizens who could have benefited from treatment and pretrial diversion instead had their lives destroyed over what was essentially a health care issue and with a conviction record found themselves with few options for a productive life,” Williams states.
Williams, a Democrat who is assistant state attorney in Florida’s 5th Judicial Circuit and a former assistant state attorney in JC 9 where he now is running, is in a tough election campaign battle. He’s up against JC 9 Chief Assistant State Attorney Deborah Barra, also a Democrat. Also in the contest is Republican Kevin Morenski.
Williams both praised and raised concerns about several specific bills in the 2020 Legislative Session pushed by Democratic state Sen. Randolph Bracy and Republican state Sen. Jeff Brandes [Senate Bills 468, 578, 424,] and Democratic state Rep. Anna Eskamani [House Bill 6053.]
SB 468 would give judges some discretion in sentencing based on circumstances. SB 578 would ensure that children under the age of 12 are not arrested. SB 424 would give judges the option to order non-prison punishments in some cases. HB 6053 would eliminate all minimum mandatory sentences associated with drug trafficking.
Williams wrote that he agrees “with the spirit” of Eskamani’s HB 6053. He criticized Brandes’ SB 424 for exposing prescription drug addicts “unnecessarily to minimum mandatories.”
“Both legislators are trying to tackle a definite problem from opposite sides of the aisle and I find their work encouraging,” he declared.
He expressed support for Bracy’s SB 578 and for SB 424, which is cosponsored by Bracy and Brandes, but also expressed concerns about blanket statements in each bill.
“Sweeping, unyielding, and uncompromising positions without consideration of the circumstances or consequences is neither justice nor reform. The solution exists in the middle,” Williams declared in his paper.
“The bottom line is that it is time to reform our criminal justice system in meaningful ways that can make our system more just, while also protecting the public,” he wrote.