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Tallahassee reconsiders mandatory minimums

Budget constraints have politicians questioning mandatory sentencing guidelines for nonviolent drug offenders

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"The cost of incarceration is significantly 
greater than even a modest treatment," says Dominic Calabro, president of Florida TaxWatch. The state of Florida estimates that rehabilitation programs administered through a circuit drug court cost between $950 to $2,500 per individual, per year - which, at most, would be about 13 percent the cost of incarcerating that same individual. That means that if only half of the state's 19,723 drug offenders were successfully diverted towards said programs, the state could save more than 
$167 million.

 But to some conservatives, cost savings are but a minor benefit of abandoning the state's dependence on incarceration. The real positive impact of rehabilitation programs, according to Rev. Allison DeFoor, who served as both judge and sheriff of Monroe County, is a reduction in the recidivism rate. "Whether they do 10 years, 20 years or 50 years, if you don't address [their] issues, they're going to come back," 
DeFoor says.

A report released by a Florida Supreme Court task force in July 2004 indicates that drug courts greatly reduce recidivism for drug crimes. While the statewide average recidivism rate has hovered around 33 percent for the past decade, the report found that drug courts in Broward County, Escambia County and Palm Beach County boasted graduate recidivism rates of 19 percent, 12 percent and 6 percent, respectively. "The bottom line is that studies continue to show that drug court graduates have significantly reduced recidivism rates, thereby enhancing public safety," the 
report states. 

DeFoor is confident that Gov. Scott will take heed of conservatives' advice to expand rehabilitation programs and faith-based facilities - in fact, when the Weekly spoke with DeFoor on March 15, he had just left a budget briefing at Scott's office.

Not that the governor needed a reminder: On Dec. 15, his Law and Order Transition team published a report that espoused ideologies that aligned surprisingly well with those of FAMM and Right on Crime. "It is clear that the current criminal laws do not allow for the judiciary to use prudent judgment in sentencing recommendations that could and would reduce the ballooning population of corrections," the report states. "Legislative actions are needed to repeal/preempt existing statutory requirements and policy based bans that do not allow a consideration of rehabilitation."

 "We need to have data-driven criminal justice, and everybody from the left to the right are trying to get there now," concludes DeFoor. "And this governor is very much data-driven."    

Veterans of the corrections system are welcoming the conservatives' shift in perspective. "I do think that we've gone from being hard on crime to, hopefully, being smart on crime," says Vicki Lukis, vice chair of the Department of Corrections' Re-Entry Advisory Council and formerly Chair of Governor Jeb Bush's Ex-Offender Task Force. "At some point, you have to ask yourself, is a substance abuser best suited to be in a prison for 15 years?"

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