FL Women, Rural Residents Get Higher Drug Penalties

Women, Hispanics and residents from a handful of counties were given lengthy prison sentences for trafficking prescription painkillers at higher rates than were other Floridians, finds an analysis reported by the Miami Herald.  The analysis examined 935 inmates serving mandatory sentences of 15 and 25 years that are no longer in state law because the legislature has eased the penalties. Findings by the nonpartisan Project on Accountable Justice at Florida State University are expected this month. The group of prisoners examined was the focus of a Miami Herald/Tampa Bay Times investigation that reported on Jomari DeLeon, a mother of three serving 15 years for a first-time drug offense that now would qualify for about three years.

National research has found that women in state prisons are more likely than men to be serving time for drug offenses. Since 1978, the number of women in state prisons nationwide has grown 800 percent — double the pace of men, says the Prison Policy Initiative. Researchers have cited the war on drugs as a driver of that explosion. “One in four women … experienced sexual or domestic violence prior to incarceration. These are issues that lead to self-medicating,” said Florida State Prof. Carla Laroche. Some counties with fewer than 350,000 residents imposed lengthy minimum sentences at much higher rates than more populous counties. Osceola County had 97 people serving outdated sentences, 10 percent of the total. Deborrah Brodsky of the Project on Accountable Justice said the unequal distribution shows why Florida needs better oversight of its criminal justice system to determine whether regional discrepancies are due to differences in enforcement or other factors, like shortages of addiction services. “We see these types of trends, especially rural and non-urban centers imposing longer sentences, for drug crimes and low-level crimes,” said Leonard Engel of the Crime and Justice Institute, a national nonpartisan group.

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