Last week, President Obama reduced the sentences of 61 nonviolent drug offenders. Since 2014, President Obama has reduced the prison sentences of 248 inmates – more than the past six presidents combined.
In a speech given at the NAACP’s 106th national convention, President Obama explained his reasons:
“For nonviolent drug crimes, we need to lower the long mandatory minimum sentences – – or get rid of them entirely. Give judges some discretion around nonviolent crimes so that, potentially, we can steer a you person who has made a mistake in a better direction.”
“We should pass a sentencing reform bill through Congress this year. We need to ask prosecutors to use their discretion to seek the best punishment, the one that’s going to be most effective, instead of just the longest punishment. We should invest in alternatives to prison, like drug courts and treatment and probation programs – – which ultimately can save taxpayers thousands of dollars per defendant each year.”
In sum, President Obama is reducing the prison sentences of these offenders because they are not “hardened criminals” and their punishments do not match the crimes committed.
Will Governor Scott and Florida Follow Suit?
Similar to Federal law, Florida is not immune to long mandatory minimum prison sentences for nonviolent drug offenders. For instance, a first time criminal defendant in 2010 found with just 33 non-prescribed Lortab pills received a mandatory minimum prison sentence of 15 years pursuant to Florida state law. This means that this defendant, who had no more than about a hundred dollars worth of pain medication, will serve 15 years day-for-day without the opportunity of early release. This is just one example, of many, where the punishment does not match the crime committed.
Unfortunately, President Obama does not have the authority to reduce the prison sentences of defendants convicted under Florida state law. This would violate the separation of powers clause. Accordingly, in Florida, the job is left to the Governor and Office of Executive Clemency.
Rick Scott has been the Governor of Florida since 2011. His record on this issue is clear. While in office, Governor Scott is responsible for reducing the sentences of just three inmates:
- 2013 – Joseph Kelly – Trafficking in Cocaine/ Conspiracy to Traffic in Cocaine – 20 year prison sentence reduced to 15 years in prison, followed by five years of probation
- 2015 – Ryan Holle – First Degree Murder – life without parole sentence reduced to 25 years in prison, followed by 10 years of probation
- 2015 – Joshua Hunter – DUI Manslaughter – 124.5 month sentence, followed by 55.5 months probation reduced to 7 years in prison, followed by 7 years of probation
Governor’s Scott’s actions over the past five years are clearly not in line with the recent actions of President Obama.
So the question remains, when will Governor Scott and the Office of Executive Clemency follow suit? When will they realize that many inmates, who are somebody’s mother, father, son, daughter, grandfather, grandmother, etc., in Florida’s prison system are not “hardened criminals” and over sentenced? When will they realize that the best punishment is not necessarily the longest punishment? When will they learn to encourage alternatives to prison? When will they take action and save taxpayers thousands of dollars per inmate each year? If the answer is never, then our State deserves an explanation. I personally cannot think of one, can you?
*Photo Credit to WUWF.ORG