U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder’s order that federal prosecutors stop charging lower-level drug offenders with “draconian minimum mandatory sentences” echoed the refrain from a bi-partisan coalition of activists who have tried and failed to get legislators to change the laws in Florida, reports the Miami Herald. The cost of incarcerating a drug offender for a mandatory three-year prison sentence in Florida is estimated at $58,400, while the cost of treatment in a work release program is $19,130, says the Florida Office of Program and Policy Analysis and Government Accountability.
Florida's crime rate is at a 41-year low but the prison population continues to grow with non-violent, first-time offenders, most of whom are snared by undercover agents targeting them for trafficking in small quantities of prescription drugs, the analysis found. The Florida Department of Corrections is spending an estimated $300 million a year to house people incarcerated for drug offenses. Whether the federal move will affect Florida, where a bi-partisan group of activists and legislators have tried to shift the focus from drug incarcerations to treatment and diversion, is an open question. If a federal prosecutor wants a tougher punishment for a drug offender “he can kick over the case to the state,'' said Greg Newburn, Florida director of the Families Against Mandatory Minimums. “That could be extremely costly move for Florida if it decides not to change its sentencing laws.”