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SPLC statement on Fla. bills that would allow judges to depart from mandatory minimum sentencing

Florida Sen. Jeff Brandes, R-St. Petersburg, and Rep. Ben Diamond, D-St. Petersburg, filed legislation — SB 694 and HB 481 — today that would create a safety valve, allowing judges to depart from mandatory minimum sentencing for low-level drug crimes.

We applaud Sen. Brandes and Rep. Diamond for taking on the important issue of mandatory minimum sentencing, which has caused Florida to over-incarcerate people who have been charged with low-level, and often first-time offenses. A one-size-fits-all approach to sentencing does not reduce crime, but does cost taxpayers millions of dollars.

Judges should be allowed to review individual defendants and the circumstances of their offenses in order to impose fair punishment and protect public safety. They should also be allowed to determine whether prison or an evidence-based alternative – such as treatment for substance abuse or mental illness – is the best resolution.

While we support the proposed reforms, we recognize that the bills are fairly narrow in scope, and that they leave out many of Florida’s more than 100 mandatory minimum sentences that are also in need of reform.