Saturday, January 20, 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: Criminal charges should finally wake up FSU fraternities to hazing’s dangers

Editorial: Criminal charges should finally wake up FSU fraternities to hazing’s dangers

The death last fall of a 20-year-old Florida State University fraternity pledge revealed pervasive dangerous behavior within the school’s Greek system. Andrew Coffey, a Pi Kappa Phi pledge, died from alcohol poisoning after an off-campus party, and a...
Published: 01/19/18

Editorial: Confronting racial distrust in St. Petersburg, one conversation at a time

The St. Petersburg Police Department’s heavy presence in Midtown on Martin Luther King Jr. Day and the community animosity it stirred have raised a familiar, troubling question: Can St. Petersburg’s racial divisions ever be reconciled?That big ideal ...
Published: 01/19/18
William March: Tampa Bay Democrats line up for state legislative races

William March: Tampa Bay Democrats line up for state legislative races

A surge of Democrats seeking local legislative offices and hoping for a "blue wave" in the 2018 election continued last week, led by Bob Buesing filing to run again versus state Sen. Dana Young, R-Tampa.In addition:• Heather Kenyon Stahl of Tampa has...
Published: 01/19/18
Editorial: Saying ‘thank you’ helps Tampa police build needed trust

Editorial: Saying ‘thank you’ helps Tampa police build needed trust

The smiles, applause and at least one hug belied the grim impetus for a gathering last week at a neighborhood center in Tampa — the Seminole Heights killings.The Tampa Police Department held a ceremony to thank those who helped in the investigation t...
Published: 01/19/18

Editorial: State’s warning shot should get attention of Hillsborough schools

The state Board of Education hopefully sent the message this week with its warning shot about the slow pace of the turnaround at Hillsborough County’s low-performing schools.The board criticized the school system for failing to replace administrators...
Published: 01/18/18
Updated: 01/19/18
Editorial: More talk, answers needed on future of USF St. Petersburg

Editorial: More talk, answers needed on future of USF St. Petersburg

The Florida Legislature’s abrupt move to strip the University of South Florida St. Petersburg of its hard-earned separate accreditation and transform it back into a satellite of the major research university lacks detail and an appreciation for histo...
Published: 01/18/18

Another voice: Self-dealing by nursing home owners threatens patient care

The outsourcing of logistical support services, which became commonplace in the U.S. military in the 1990s and later was adopted by state prison systems, has now come to dominate the nursing home industry. And while nursing homes, unlike the military...
Published: 01/17/18
Editorial: Making illegal sewage discharges legal is wrong answer

Editorial: Making illegal sewage discharges legal is wrong answer

Three years into a crisis with its sewer system, St. Petersburg has a dandy new idea for dealing with the environmental fallout of dumping dirty water into the aquifer. Instead of committing to banning the outlawed practice, a consultant suggested th...
Published: 01/16/18
Updated: 01/17/18
Editorial: Tighten substitute teacher rules in Hillsborough

Editorial: Tighten substitute teacher rules in Hillsborough

A substitute teacher at a Plant City elementary school berated a class of fourth graders — and then the school principal. Another compared a student to a stripper. Others were caught napping, hitting children, making sexual remarks, giving students b...
Published: 01/16/18
Updated: 01/17/18
Editorial: Balancing the playing field for workers’ compensation

Editorial: Balancing the playing field for workers’ compensation

For the longest time, injured workers in Florida were basically at the mercy of the whims of employers to treat them fairly. A 2003 law aimed at reducing the cost of workers’ compensation coverage for businesses had the desired impact, but it also di...
Published: 01/16/18