According to an article appearing Friday, September 13, 2013 on the website of WPTV, in June of this year the Department quietly reversed the agency’s “no-smoking” policy at work release centers across the state. Taking a common sense approach, the Department appears to have been unable to actually enforce the policy at work release centers due to the fact that the majority of those offenders assigned depart the center each day to participate in paid employment in the community. The article states that the Department was motivated to reverse the smoking ban in order to avoid the potential of imposing disciplinary action against offenders who otherwise have behaved in a satisfactory manner. That disciplinary action could indeed result in an offender being removed from work released and returned to a prison faciity to serve out their sentences. Indeed, as a penalty for violating the Department’s rules, the offender would risk the forfeiture of gain time, thus requiring them to serve more time on that sentence. The American Lung Association criticized the move. www.FloridaPrisoner.com seriously doubts that the Department’s limited action will lead to further reversal of the “no-smoking” ban, especially in secure facilities where breaching the perimeter becomes the issue.
In what is already being hailed as a monumental change in U.S. criminal justice policy, last month Eric Holder, the United States attorney General, announced that he had issued directives to the nation’s cadre of federal prosecutors to stop charging lower-level drug offenders with “draconian minimum mandatory sentences.” While the reasoning behind Holder’s decision are complex and shrouded in political intrigue as well, one fact shines through the haze enveloping his landmark decision: Mandatory minimums have failed by any objective measure and should be repealed.
Holder’s announcement may prove to be just the impetus other governmental leaders need to get them “off the dime” and on the road to reform. In a recent FAMM-O-Gram, Julie Stewart, the President of Families Against Minimum Mandatories (FAMM) reported that just four days after Holder’s speech, the U.S. Sentencing Commission agreed with FAMM’s request to consider amending the sentencing guidelines so that all drug sentences would be reduced by two levels. Two levels might sound like it is inconsequential, but it is not so much the amount of the reduction that is of import, but the fact that the Commission is considering a downward reduction to begin with. Stewart also noted that the Senate Judiciary Committee will meet later in the month to consider legislative reforms, including the Justice Safety Valve Act.
While Holder’s decision to reign in the power of federal prosecutors when it comes to low level drug offenders in order to avoid the imposition of draconian mandatory minimum sentences is surely a sight for sore eyes, it does little directly for Florida (or any other state). Federal prosecutors enforce federal law, e.g., the Controlled Substance Act codified in the United States Code. Prosecutions under the act are subject to the policies of the U.S. Attorney General. In contrast, responsibility for the prosecution of an offender for violating the Florida Comprehensive Substance Abuse Prevention & Control Act ( ch. 893 of the Florida Statutes) falls squarely on the shoulders of the State Attorney elected in each of Florida’s twenty judicial circuits. Suffice to say that the only uniformity observable is the absence of uniformity is sentencing.
In an recent article entitled Push for leniency in drug sentencing has been a hard sell in Florida, Bradenton Herald reporter May Ellan Klas discussed the impact of Holder’s announcement against Florida’s historic resistance to criminal justice reform. Citing the results of a study by the Legislature’s own research group, it found that the $54,000 cost of keeping an offender in prison for the 3-year mandatory minimum far outweighed the estimated $19,100 cost of providing treatment to that offender in a work release environment. If nothing else, Klas’ article solidifies the reality facing those advocating sentencing reform in Florida – it is not always about the money. As reported, crime in Florida is at a 40-year old low. Yet Florida’s prison system holds just over 100,000 – with idle, empty beds awaiting our tax dollars, yours and mine too.
In the last two sessions, the Florida Legislature has had the opportunity to enact a policy change aimed at non-violent drug offenders, requiring the offenders to participate in intense treatment and educational/vocational remedial efforts. By reducing the time that successful offenders would have spent in prison, the programs would have reduced the instant cost of housing them, and (hopefully) reduced the potential cost of about 30% of average prisoners who return within three years. Yet in the last two sessions, Tallahassee has failed to adopt or implement any significant changes to the state’s sentencing policies, thereby allowing the mandatory minimum drums to keep the beat going, and as a result our tax dollars flowing into the pit of no return. If Governor Scott ran a business which made widgets that failed to do the job 305 of the time in the course of three years, I seriously doubt he would run that business for long – much less run for Governor. Please do your part by helping FAMM and other groups who seek to reform Florida’s sentencing policy before it devours another handful of unfortunate souls suffering from a mental health disorder that has in essence become a crime.
According to information released on Monday, August 26, 2013 by the DOC, the Lowell Reception Center, located south of Ocala in Marion County and across the street from the male facility at Lowell C.I., has been renamed to Florida Women’s Reception Center. According to an article reporting on the change appearing in Gainesville.com, the web presence of the Gainesville Sun. the Department stated the facility will continue to serve the Department int the role of a reception facility for female individuals as they embark on their journey through the Department.
As of June of 2013, the Department housed about 94, 000 male offenders, and 7,071 females. The reception center has a capacity of 1,345 beds, lessening the demand for another female reception center. The female facility at Lowell has historically served as a reception facility for female admissions. To learn more, visit http://www.dc.state.fl.us/facilities/region2/368.html
According to published reports, on Tuesday May 14, 2013, a three-judge panel of Florida”s First District Court of Appeals heard oral argument in the appeal brought by the Florida Department of Corrections of the lower court’s ruling last December that restricted the Department from attempting to privatize prisoner health care in any region other than Southwest Florida, which lawmakers have specifically approved. In that lawsuit- brought by the AFSCME, uni0n representing DOC health care employees, the employees argued that the Legislative Budget Commission overstepped its authority when it approved the Department’s plan to contract with private companies to provide prisoner healthcare, an issue hotly contested by state officials and their lawyers.
As noted, in December of last year, Second Circuit Court judge John Cooper agreed with AFSCME lawyers that the full Legislature could not delegate its budgeting authority to a small group of lawmakers, and that because the full Legislature had only authorized the smaller group to award contracts for prisoner healthcare in the Southern region of the state, the Commission could not privatize healthcare services at the remaining Department prisons. There was no indication of when a decision might be reached by the Court panel hearing the case.
According to an article appearing today on the website of the South Florida Times, Florida has earned the distinction of having one of the harshest policies on disenfranchisement upon conviction of a felony among all the states in the nation. “Changes under Republican Gov. Rick Scott are making it more difficult for Florida’s former felons to get their voting rights restored, which critics say has suppressed the minority vote and hurt Democratic candidates.” As the article further noted, “civil liberties activists say Florida’s rights restoration rules are the most restrictive in the nation and have the effect, if not the intent, of suppressing the minority vote.”
According to the article, Florida is the largest of four states that permanently deny felons the right to vote unless restored by the governor or a clemency board. The others are Virginia, Kentucky and Iowa. In the midst of the post-Civil War Reconstruction Era, Florida adopted a new constitution with a provision prohibiting former felons from voting or holding public office unless their civil rights were restored. While former Governor Charlie Crist helped to adopt liberal provisions to the rules regulating executive clemency that proided for the automatic restoration of voting rights for nonviolent ex-offenders, one of his first actions taken by Governor Rick Scott following his election was to “undo” those amendments by adopting new rules that require ex-offenders to wait at least 5 years after their release before even applying to have their right to vote restored. Since then, the South Florida Times reports, “the number of former felons who have had their voting rights restored has slowed to a trickle.”
For further information, read the article or visit the website of the Sentencing Proect.
It was reported that James Crosby, the former FDOC Secretary who resigned in 1996 and subsequently convicted of accepting kickbacks in a scheme that skimmed profits of the goods sold to prisoners’ visitors, was released from federal prison on Monday. in 2007, Crosby was originally sentenced to 8 years for his role in the scheme, through which he and co-defendant Allen Wayne Clark received $130,000 in kickbacks. When sentenced on April 24, 2007, U.S. District Judge Virginia Hernandez Covington told Crosby, "The public’s trust was violated.” She then added,”As the head of the department, you have to suffer the consequences."
Despite those harsh words, prosecutors later asked the judge to reduce Crosby’s sentence, based on his cooperation in the case which included agreeing to testify against the others involved and wearing a wire in order to record an incriminating conversation with co-defendant Edward Lee Dugger. Judge Covington granted prosecutors request in 2012, shaving 15 months off Crosby’s sentence. According to an article appearing on the online edition of the Gainesville Sun, Crosby has been on home detainment since October and had earned a year of good behavior credit based on records of the Federal Bureau of Prisons. He remains on supervised release for three years.
According to Barney Bishop, President of the Florida Smart Justice Alliance, Florida is doing little to insure that those persons released from Florida’s prisons don’t come back. As Bishop put it recently in an article published on the website of the Sunshine State News:
We aren’t correcting inmates. In most cases we are just incarcerating them. We can’t afford to do that anymore without providing treatment for underlying issues (so often, substance abuse or mental health issues) and educational/vocational services to help them live law-abiding lives once they are released.
As an example of what the State can do that is “right,” Bishop pointed to House Bill 7121 filed by House Judiciary Committee Chair Dennis Baxley, and its companion bill filed in the Senate by Senator Thad Altman, Senate Bill 1032, both of which would ensure that Florida-born inmates are able to receive a state-issued ID card or other form of identification without charge before they leave prison.The bills also require the Department of Corrections to assist prisoners in applying for and obtaining a social security card and drivers’ license before their release as well. Further, the Bills also require the Department to “establish” an “inmate re-entry” program for non-violent offenders, subject to the appropriation of funding for such a program. There are at least three other bills that are pending in the Legislature that provide for a more-expansive approach to re-entry, including HB 0069; SB 1704; and SB 0880. Whether those bills make it out of Committee is the question.
While the Legislature’s adoption of either of the bills will surely be beneficial to those individuals who are being released back into the community by helping to eliminate one of the major hurdles newly-released prisoners face, www.FloridaPrisoner.com does not understand how such measures will have any quantifiable impact whatsoever on the State’s recidivism rate. Above all, we must remember that we did not get into this mess overnight, and getting out will surely prove a more difficult row to hoe.
Legislature Considers Bills that Modify Minimum Mandatory for Trafficking Painkillers
According to an email from the Florida Chapter of Families Against Mandatory Minimums (FAMM), bills are pending in both houses of the Florida Legislature that would amend the state’s drug trafficking statute, section 893.135, Florida Statutes, as it relates to prescription drug penalties. As it now stands, that statutes provides that when theweight of the substance is determinative of both whether the offense is charged as drug trafficking or a lesser offense, and if trafficking, the related to prescription pain medication containing the opiate pain-killers, oxycodone and hydrocodone. The proposals would remove these two drugs from the statute and create a new one containing just those drugs, and importantly establish a new threshold requiring that a person possess (or sell, or deliver, etc.) at least 7 grams instead of 4 grams to trigger the imposition of a 3-year minimum mandatory, which progressively increases as does the weight involved. For your convenience, I am including the email in its entirety.
Hello, Florida FAMM!
I want to call your attention to some new developments in the Florida legislative session. As you know, we’ve been pushing for a “safety valve” that would allow judges some discretion over sentencing in prescription drug “trafficking” cases. Unfortunately, it appears as if that particular reform does not have the support to keep moving through the committee process this year. However, FAMM and our partners have been working hard on an alternative reform that we think might have more support than the safety valve. Today, the Senate Criminal Justice Committee will hear SPB 7148, a bill designed to reform the statute that governs prescription drug trafficking. I want to take this opportunity to give you a brief overview of what this bill does (and doesn’t do). Tomorrow, the House Justice Appropriations Committee will hear the same reform in HB 159. As most of you know, under current law, prescription painkillers (e.g., Oxycodone, hydrocodone) are treated like heroin, and the minimum weight threshold for trafficking is four grams. Because the entire pill is weighed, and not just the controlled substance in the pill, as few as seven pills can trigger “trafficking” and yield a three-year mandatory minimum sentence.SPB 7148 amends the drug trafficking statute (F.S. 893.135) by removing Oxycodone and hydrocodone from the current section that punishes trafficking in these substances and other opiates, and creates a new section for “trafficking in prescription drugs.” That new section raises the threshold trafficking weight from four grams to 14 grams, and changes the penalties associated with prescription drug trafficking. The proposed new weights and penalties are as follows:
- Trafficking in 14 grams or more, but less than 28 grams, of Oxycodone or hydrocodone: 3-year mandatory minimum term and $50,000 fine. (Under current law, a 3-year mandatory minimum term and a $50,000 fine are provided for trafficking in 4 grams or more, but less than 14 grams, of Oxycodone or hydrocodone.)
- Trafficking in 28 grams or more, but less than 50 grams, of Oxycodone or hydrocodone: 7-year mandatory minimum term and $100,000 fine. (Under current law, a 15-year mandatory minimum term and a $100,000 fine are provided for trafficking in 14 grams or more, but less than 28 grams, of Oxycodone or hydrocodone.)
- Trafficking in 50 grams or more, but less than 200 grams, of Oxycodone or hydrocodone: 15-year mandatory minimum term and $50,000 fine. (Under current law, a 25-year mandatory minimum term and a $500,000 fine are provided for trafficking in 28 grams or more, but less than 30 kilograms, of Oxycodone or hydrocodone.)
- Trafficking in 200 grams or more of Oxycodone or hydrocodone: 25-year mandatory minimum term and $500,000 fine. (Under current law, a 25-year mandatory minimum term and a $500,000 fine are provided for trafficking in 28 grams or more, but less than 30 kilograms, of Oxycodone or hydrocodone. Trafficking in 30 kilograms or more of these drugs is punishable by life imprisonment.)
As you can see, this bill makes a number of significant changes, all of them improvements. However, the changes are not retroactive, which means the new thresholds and penalties will apply only to offenses committed on or after the effective date (likely July 1, 2013). This reform will be heard in at least two legislative committees this week (one in the House, and one in the Senate), and I will keep everyone apprised of the bill as it moves along in the legislative process. Thanks once again for all of your support.
Florida Project DirectorFamilies Against Mandatory Minimums
You can reach Greg at FAMM, P.O. Box 142933 Gainesville, FL 32614. His e-mail is: email@example.com
For those Florida prisoners (and their families & friends) who simply refuse to give up hope on the miracle belief that state leaders are again contemplating the repeal of the 1995 Stop Turning Out Prisoners Act, ch. 95-294, in order to allow non-violent offenders to once again earn more incentive gain time than that presently allowed under the Act’s 85% requirement, those hopes have been dashed by reality. While conducting the research footwork last week regarding the accomplishments of the legislative committees and subcommittees that are concerned with corrections and its related funding issues, www.FloridaPrisoner.com verified that prisoners who still cling to the belief that a return to the days of pre-85% gain time availability are simply ignoring the reality of the day.
Speaking on the ground of anonymity, it was a consensus among the staffers of all three relevant legislative committees (or subcommittees) that while Legislatures had considered amending or even repealing the 1995 Act more than once, the facts that brought about that possibility no longer exist. In the last two years, the population of the prison system has effectively stopped its previous unchecked rate of growth and indeed, has even posted a decline for the first time since 1984. That stunted growth has led the DOC to shutter several older existing prisons, and even leave a couple brand-new facilities empty. In one way or another, the availability of gain time and the existence of the other early-release programs during the 1980′s and 1990′s was always tied to the “problem” of prison overcrowding. With the population of the prison system to end the fiscal year again with negative growth, those prisoner and their families who are praying for the availability of additional gain-time must look to something other than the overcrowding God, else they once again get stuck worshiping a false God.
On February 19, 2013, members of the Florida Smart Justice Alliance held a press conference for the purpose of announcing that the Alliance had convinced several members of the 2013 Florida Legislature to sponsor proposed legislation that is purportedly geared towards reducing the state’s rate of recidivism by providing sorely needed rehabilitative programs at soon-to-be created “re-entry” facilities, perhaps located at prisons that the state has not yet opened because of the lack of need for prison beds. According to published accounts, Rep. Dennis Baxley, chair of the House Judiciary Committee. and Sen. Thad Altman, who is a member of both the Senate Criminal Justice Committee and the Appropriations Subcommittee on Criminal and Civil Justice, appeared at the conference and announced their support for the Alliance’s “Smart Justice” proposals.
“I am firmly convinced that Florida can take a better approach to how we deal with non-violent offenders, so that we can move them away from a life of crime and onto the path of productive, law-abiding lives,” Rep. Baxley said. “The ideas contained in this legislation will make a meaningful difference – not just in the lives of offenders, but more importantly in the lives of Floridians who might otherwise become their future crime victims.”
According to the Alliance website, the legislation will address several important objectives, including:
Among its provisions, it would:
• Identify which types of inmates could be considered for these services, focusing on non-violent felony offenders who are in the last three years of their sentences
• Require the Department of Corrections to establish one or more correctional re-entry facilities, dedicated specifically to providing substance abuse treatment, mental health treatment, expanded work release opportunities and educational/vocational and other services to help this group of prisoners acquire the tools to live within the law
• Make no change in the state’s requirement that all prisoners serve at least 85 percent of their sentences before being considered for release; the bill would not lead to the early release of prisoners
• Establish a mechanism to provide inmates with official state identification cards upon their release, to make it possible for them to find jobs and housing opportunities
“The people of Florida expect us to always be looking for innovative ways to protect them without breaking the bank,” Sen. Altman said. “This legislation will move us in a smarter direction so we can focus our limited resources on the serious criminals who pose a greater threat to society.”
Bishop said the Smart Justice Alliance will also support a requirement for electronic monitoring of all inmates who are allowed to travel outside prison walls for work release jobs. That idea, which Governor Rick Scott has also advocated, will be addressed in the appropriations process.
Bishop cited Department of Corrections statistics that show two in five new admissions to the prison system each year are re-offenders, and only 23 percent of the 32,000 inmates released every year receive any kind of treatment. He said this perpetuates the cycle of inmates being released without treatment and, as a result, returning to criminal activity – and then returning to prison. Three of the top five reasons individuals are being sent to prison are for non-violent felonies, the type of inmates who could benefit the most from the reforms contained in the legislation. The proposed legislation will provide treatment services above and beyond the 7,500 treatment slots currently being served.
As of March 18, 2013, several bills have been filed related to implementing thee proposals which www.FloridaPrisoner.com will comment on in the near future.