Florida’s sentencing system is broken, the Sarasota Herald-Tribune reports. Half a century after the civil rights movement, trial judges sentence blacks to harsher punishment than whites. They offer blacks fewer chances to avoid jail or scrub away felonies. They give blacks more time behind bars, sometimes double the sentences of whites accused of the same crimes under identical circumstances. Florida lawmakers tried to create a more equitable system that uses points to calculate sentences based on the severity of the crime, the defendant’s prior record, and a host of other factors.
The point system has not stopped discrimination. In Manatee County, judges sentence whites convicted of felony drug possession to an average of five months behind bars. They give blacks with identical charges and records more than a year. Judges in the Florida Panhandle county of Okaloosa sentence whites to nearly five months for battery. They lock up blacks for almost a year. Along the state’s northeast shore, judges in Flagler County put blacks convicted of armed robbery away for nearly triple the time. “It’s unconscionable,” said Wengay Newton Sr., who was elected to the Florida House of Representatives in November. “That’s like running a red light in a white car and your ticket is $100 and running a red light in a black car and your ticket is $300.” The Herald-Tribune spent a year reviewing tens of millions of records in two state databases — one compiled by the state’s court clerks that tracks criminal cases through every stage of the justice system and the other by the Florida Department of Corrections that notes points scored by felons at sentencing.