Fla. Lawmakers Consider Bill to Let Some Inmates Out Early

Up and down the state, it's become a tough new reality. If you get high, all too often you'll wind up doing time.

One-in-four Florida prisoners have been convicted of a drug crime. Many are non-violent, but tough sentencing laws can mean decades behind bars.

Now, all that could be about to change with a new bill that would allow them to apply for a rehab program. If they do well, they could be re-sentenced to probation and leave prison early.

"These people are sick, and if we as a society want to make them productive in society, then we need to figure out how to do that, with all of the great minds and all of the people, and obviously the end result is, we want safety for the citizens," said Sen. Ellyn Bogdanoff, R-Ft. Lauderdale.

You might call it a way around Florida's law requiring that inmates serve out 85 percent of their sentence. The law passed to get tough on crime, but it's also been tough on the budget. That budget now has a $2 billion deficit.

The drug court bill could help free up money that would otherwise go toward keeping people locked up, but former Citrus County sheriff and republican Senator Charlie Dean has concerns.

"I experienced in law enforcement that people get charged with a lesser offense, violation of drug or substance abuse that have pretty significant other criminal records," he said.
The bill's been fine-tuned to help make those offenders ineligible for the program.
But there may be *another problem*...coming up with the money to run it.

"You're not focusing enough on doing the things to stop the recidivism based on drug abuse," said Frank Messersmith with the Florida Sheriff's Association. "You need to create the programs. If only 20 percent of the prisoners that are eligible can find this treatment, it does no good to have the program."

In the end, unshackling more prisoners may depend on unshackling the will to make some difficult reforms.

Under the legislation, only non-violent inmates convicted of a drug offense who have served at least half of their original sentence would be eligible to apply for the program.

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