Many changes may be coming to Florida’s criminal justice system, which is wonderful news for those who may be accused of drug-related offenses. The Florida First Step Act is moving through the Senate, and it could potentially eliminate mandatory minimum sentences for certain nonviolent offenders.

The sponsor of the bill, a lawmaker from St. Petersburg, wants to do what he can to begin a conversation on criminal justice reform in Florida. The bill, Senate Bill 642, passed the first committee the week of March 6, and it’s suspected to continue forward.

Helping the prison system

The state’s prison system is struggling. It has around 96,000 inmates, but the programs continue to be cut. There is little focus on rehabilitation, even though that would be helpful to many of the inmates.

One goal of the new bill is to treat nonviolent offenders differently by eliminating the mandatory minimum sentences that see drug mules or addicts treated identically to kingpins or others who might be in charge. The sponsor believes that the best practice would be to get those individuals into drug treatment programs — not to put them in prison.

With the bill, the sponsor is seeking to give judges discretion when sentencing nonviolent offenders, allowing them to choose a sentence that fits the person’s crime and specific needs. The bill also would make it necessary to keep inmates within 300 miles of their families, instead of potentially sending them so far away that there is little or no contact.

This could be a positive change in Florida, and it’s one to pay attention to as it continues through the Senate.