Cynthia Powell is serving a 25-year sentence for selling 35 pills for $300 in 2002. Her incarceration in Florida costs taxpayers $18,064 per year — or $451,600 by the time she is released in 2023. The Florida Senate Criminal Justice Committee concluded this week that’s money poorly spent, the Miami Herald reports. It voted unanimously for a bill that would end minimum mandatory sentences for nonviolent offenses like Powell’s. The measure represents a major shift from the tough-on-crime bills of the last two decades that filled prisons and created what both liberals and conservatives now believe has been a subclass of lifers in jail and a waste of tax money.
The “prison diversion bill” would save the state $131 million in avoided costs and put 1,001 fewer people in jail, said the sponsor, Sen. Daryl Rouson. It would allow judges to depart from the 118 minimum mandatory sentences in Florida law but excludes drug traffickers. It restores the Florida Sentencing Commission, which existed from 1982 to 1997, but limits its scope to determining the severity ranking that adds points to an offender’s record based on certain offenses. Anyone who commits a violent offense is not eligible for leniency. Reforming Florida’s legacy of harsh sentencing is one of several reforms being pushed by a coalition of liberal and conservative advocates that were passed unanimously by the Senate committee on Tuesday. “We are in an interesting juncture in our society and the Legislature, where Democrats and Republicans in both chambers agree that it’s really time to look at our criminal justice system and start to make some reforms,” said Sen. Randolph Bracy, committee chairman.