Herald-Tribune
“Obama’s pardons prompt calls for reform”
By Lloyd Dunkelberger
July 17, 2015TALLAHASSEE — As President Barack Obama commuted the sentences of 46 prisoners, including 22 Floridians, who were serving long-term federal prison sentences for non-violent crimes, advocates used the occasion to call for sentencing reforms in Florida.Dominic Calabro, head of Florida TaxWatch, said the sentences are “unnecessarily harsh” for both the inmates and the taxpayers.“Over-incarceration of non-violent drug offenders, such as these inmates, provides little to no public benefit to community safety, but results in astronomical costs,” said Calabro, whose non-partisan research group is part of a coalition calling for changes in the way Florida sentences prisoners.Robert Weissert, a senior TaxWatch researcher, said while Florida’s crime rate has plunged to a 40-year low, the state’s tough sentencing policies have caused the prison population to “explode.”Florida currently houses more than 100,000 inmates in its prison system at a cost of more than $2.2 billion a year.“As Florida lawmakers look for options to reduce the state burden for prisons and continue to make Sunshine State streets safer, they must ensure the punishment fits the crime,” Weissert said.He noted the Legislature has acted in recent years, including reducing sentences in 2014 for non-violent drug offenders charged with possession of oxycodone and hydrocodone. “In 2016, policymakers should build upon those reforms by revisiting all nonviolent drug sentencing and reduce the mandatory minimums for these offenses,” Weissert said.Earlier this year, The Pew Charitable Trusts released a report showing that prison incarceration rates have declined in Florida and the majority of states, while the crime rate has plunged nationally between 2008 and 2013.In Florida, the crime rate fell by 26 percent in that period, while the incarceration rate dropped by 6 percent, which was the national average.Other states have cut their incarceration rates more dramatically, while still experiencing a decline in the crime rate, the Pew study showed. At the top was California which cut its imprisonment rate by 25 percent in that five-year period, while the crime rate declined by 11 percent.In another effort to divert Floridians away from the more costly end of the criminal justice system, a group of juvenile justice reform advocates announced a study showing the growing use of a civil citation program in Florida to divert youths from an arrest, while saying the program could be expanded.Under the program, juveniles who commit minor, non-violent crimes, like petit theft or the possession of marijuana, can be issued a citation that directs them to community service, intervention programs or other requirements, rather than facing a formal arrest.TaxWatch has estimated that communities that use civil citations to divert an arrest save between $1,500 and $4,600 per incident, or up to $139 million annually.But the new study, by Dewey & Associates of Tampa, showed that only 38 percent of the 21,349 youths eligible were given a citation by law enforcement officers in 2013-14. The remaining 13,290 were arrested.“What taxpayer wouldn’t want common youth misbehavior to be handled more efficiently and effectively so that public safety resources shift to preventing serious crimes?” asked Dewey Caruthers, president of the company that conducted the “Stepping Up” study.Sponsors of the civil citation study included The Childrens Campaign, Florida State University, The James Madison Institute and The Southern Poverty Law Center.Article: http://politics.heraldtribune.com/2015/07/17/obamas-pardons-prompt-calls-for-reform/