BY BUDDY NEVINS
State Rep. Ari Porth has a new way for Florida to save money: End minimum mandatory sentencing for nonviolent drug offenders.
The law is ridiculous and clogging up our prisons with inmates who don’t belong there.
Porth of Coral Springs notes that it costs the state $55-a-day to house an inmate.
He said that he has seen middle class, contributing member of society victimized by minimum mandatory sentences.
“There are people who were in car accidents who become hooked on pain pills, Porth said. “Then they are pulled over by an officer for something routine. The officer finds seven pills in their possession and suddenly they are slapped with mandatory prison time.”
Currently if someone is convicted of possession of as little as four grams of an opiate like morphine, oxycodone or heroin, they face a mandatory sentence of three years in the state pen. Four grams is an amount equal to less than three Wheat Thins!
Under Porth’s bill, judges would decide on a case-by-case basis which non-violent drug abusers deserve a second chance.
Porth is riding a recent trend in the nation which has found that mandatory sentencing for non-violent crimes is expensive and doesn’t work.
The Rockefeller Laws
Mandatory sentencing may not have started with Nelson Rockefeller, but he was the most notable proponent of them.
In 1973, then-New York Governor Rockefeller pushed through a law which mandated stiff sentences for possessing modest amounts of everything from marijuana to heroin. Possession of even a little pot by first time offenders faced a mandatory 15 years in the slammer — on par with second-degree murderers.
The laws were designed to take sentencing decisions out of the hand of what conservatives called “lily-livered liberal judges”. As if the judiciary was the responsible for drug abuse!
New York prisons quickly filled with non-violent offenders. New York dropped its mandatory sentences in 2009, saying it was costing up to $300 million-a-year and accomplishing nothing.
It will be interesting to see if the Republicans buy Porth’s sensible idea. Or do they only want to cut school budgets and aid for the poor?
At least one Republican likes the bill. The Senate sponsor is Republican Ellyn Bogdanoff of Fort Lauderdale, chair of Budget subcommittee on Finance and Tax. (My son Aaron is Bogdanoff’s legislative assistant)
Porth’s idea makes sense. He’s the perfect lawmaker to sell it because he is a prosecutor.
Current Laws Unfair, Don’t Work
Besides budget consideration, there are other obvious reasons to end mandatory sentences for non-violent drug offenders.
Many of those locked up are minorities who can’t afford good lawyers to bargain the charges down.
Jimmy O’Malley caught in his Corvette riding dirty with an ounce of coke walks. Tashandra Williams nabbed in the projects with a gram of coke does years in the pen.
Approximately 90 percent of those jailed in New York’s 25-year experiment with minimum mandatory sentences were blacks and Hispanics. The staff research on Porth’s bill has not been done yet, but I believe the Florida stats will be just as stacked against minorities.
The biggest reason to try Porth’s approach is that mandatory sentencing never cured the problem. Offenders need rehab, not prison.
Porth’s bill is a step in that direction.
Note: Porth is running for Broward County commission in 2012. His opponent for now is the incumbent Stacy Ritter.