Tuesday, June 19, 2018
Editorials

Editorial: Toward a better drug policy

Attorney General Eric Holder's announcement Monday that he will direct prosecutors to scale back long prison sentences for low-level and nonviolent drug offenders is a significant step toward a more rational national drug policy. Holder's shift reflects a growing bipartisan consensus that America's overemphasis on prison time is too costly on many fronts. The bold move will bring positive change to the way drug crimes are prosecuted, but it's not enough to end America's destructive incarceration binge. That will take putting an end to mandatory minimum sentences on the federal and state level.

To show how heavily the criminal justice system at the federal, state and local level relies on incarceration, Holder laid out the grim statistics in a speech before the American Bar Association on Monday. The United States has only 5 percent of the world's population but 25 percent of its prisoners, Holder said. Since 1980, America's population has grown by a third but the prison population has increased almost 800 percent, costing $80 billion in 2010 alone. "And it comes with human and moral costs that are impossible to calculate," Holder said.

Even conservative states such as Texas and Arkansas have embraced strategies to lower incarceration rates as a cost-cutting move. Approaches typically involve diverting low-level drug offenders from prison into treatment or investing in more job training programs — progressive criminal justice strategies that have been proven to reduce recidivism. Florida has successfully experimented with drug courts and work-release programs that can save millions of dollars on new prisons.

Holder is telling the nation's federal prosecutors to avoid draconian mandatory minimum laws by not listing drug quantities in cases where there is no violence and the accused is not a leader of a criminal organization, among other criteria. Indiscriminately applied mandatory minimums, Holder rightly noted, "do not serve public safety" and "have had a destabilizing effect on particular communities, largely poor and of color."

Under mandatory minimums largely adopted in the 1980s, Congress systematically took discretion away from judges, who were seen as too soft, and handed it to prosecutors. As a consequence, the federal prison system now runs at nearly 40 percent above capacity and, of more than 219,000 people in federal prison, nearly half are there for drug-related offenses. Holder's plan would turn that prosecutorial power into a tool for rational leniency. He also would expand "compassionate release" for nonviolent offenders who are elderly and have served a substantial proportion of their time.

Such sensible reforms are refreshing, but they should have been implemented long ago. One-size-fits-all mandatory minimum sentences have always been more about what's good for politics than for reasonable punishment or rational spending, and Congress should repeal them.

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Editorial: A court victory for protecting Florida’s environment

Editorial: A court victory for protecting Florida’s environment

A Tallahassee judge has affirmed the overwhelming intent of Florida voters by ruling that state lawmakers have failed to comply with a constitutional amendment that is supposed to provide a specific pot of money to buy and preserve endangered lands. ...
Updated: 10 hours ago
Editorial: Trump should stop taking children away from parents at the border

Editorial: Trump should stop taking children away from parents at the border

Innocent children should not be used as political pawns. That is exactly what the Trump administration is doing by cruelly prying young children away from their parents as these desperate families cross the Mexican border in search of a safer, better...
Published: 06/17/18
Updated: 06/19/18

Editorial: ATF should get tougher on gun dealers who violate the law

Gun dealers who break the law by turning a blind eye to federal licensing rules are as dangerous to society as people who have no right to a possess a firearm in the first place. Yet a recent report shows that the federal agency responsible for polic...
Published: 06/17/18
Updated: 06/18/18
Editorial: Encouraging private citizens to step up on transit

Editorial: Encouraging private citizens to step up on transit

The new grass-roots effort to put a transportation package before Hillsborough County voters in November faces a tough slog. Voters rejected a similar effort in 2010, and another in 2016 by elected officials never made it from the gate. But the lates...
Published: 06/15/18
Editorial: 40 years later, honoring remarkable legacy of Nelson Poynter

Editorial: 40 years later, honoring remarkable legacy of Nelson Poynter

Forty years ago today, Nelson Poynter died. He was the last individual to own this newspaper, and to keep the Times connected to this community, he did something remarkable. He gave it away.In his last years, Mr. Poynter recognized that sooner or lat...
Published: 06/15/18

There was no FBI anti-Trump conspiracy

The Justice Department released Thursday the highly anticipated report on the FBI’s handling of the Hillary Clinton email probe and other sensitive issues in the 2016 election. It is not the report President Donald Trump wanted. But there is enough i...
Published: 06/14/18
Updated: 06/15/18

Voter purge may be legal, but it’s also suppression

The Supreme Court’s ruling last Monday to allow Ohio’s purging of its voter rolls is difficult to dispute legally. While federal law prohibits removing citizens from voter rolls simply because they haven’t voted, Ohio’s purge is slightly different. T...
Published: 06/14/18
Updated: 06/15/18

Editorial: Free rides will serve as a test of whether the streetcar is serious transportation

Who wouldn’t jump at the chance to ride for free?This fall, the TECO Streetcar Line eliminates its $2.50-a-ride-fare, providing the best opportunity yet to see whether the system’s vintage streetcar replicas can serve as a legitimate transportation a...
Published: 06/14/18
Updated: 06/15/18

AT&T and the case for digital innovation

A good way to guarantee you’ll be wrong about something is to predict the future of technology. As in, "One day, we’ll all …" Experts can hazard guesses about artificial intelligence, driverless cars or the death of cable television, but technologica...
Published: 06/14/18
Editorial: State, nonprofits share obligation to help Hillsborough’s foster kids

Editorial: State, nonprofits share obligation to help Hillsborough’s foster kids

The Florida Department of Children and Families has correctly set a quick deadline for Hillsborough County’s main child welfare provider to correct its foster care program. For too long the same story has played out, where troubled teens who need fos...
Published: 06/14/18