Are lengthy prison sentences discriminatory? | Editorial
Women, Hispanics and residents from smaller counties are disproportionately serving long drug sentences that are no longer in place.
This article represents the opinion of the Tampa Bay Times Editorial Board.
Published Jan. 17, 2020

Florida prisons are housing roughly 935 inmates with sentences of 15 to 25 years, but they would be facing a much different fate had they been sentenced to their crimes today. A new analysis has found that these long sentences for trafficking prescription painkillers disproportionately affect women, Hispanics and people from certain counties. When a practice targets particular populations at higher rates than others, there’s a word for that: discriminatory.

Of the 935 inmates analyzed in this report, they were twice as likely to be female and more likely to be Hispanic than the average Florida prisoner, based on results from the Project on Accountable Justice. Florida’s smaller counties also tended to enforce longer minimum sentences for drug trafficking offenses than more populated counties.

Related: RELATED: Drug laws changed. Why haven't prison sentences? | Editorial

When will Florida legislators actually follow through with an amendment voters approved in 2018? It was then that voters repealed a clause in the Florida Constitution that banned retroactive changes in sentencing law. Now, the Legislature is considering bipartisan bills in the House and Senate that would allow for re-sentencing. But neither appear poised to go anywhere.

If the fairness argument doesn’t work, if the discriminatory argument doesn’t work, then legislators must see this as a clear waste of taxpayer money. If they won’t do it for the inmates, then do it for the taxpayers. Allowing sentences to apply retroactively could actually save the state roughly $20.7 million for the money it costs to house all 935 inmates for a year. That’s a little more than chump change.

Editorials are the institutional voice of the Tampa Bay Times. The members of the Editorial Board are Times Chairman and CEO Paul Tash, Editor of Editorials Tim Nickens, and editorial writers Elizabeth Djinis, John Hill and Jim Verhulst. Follow @TBTimes_Opinion on Twitter for more opinion news.


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