Florida Could Limit Prison Growth by Turning to its Drug Courts

The first drug court in the United States was formed in Miami-Dade County in 1989. Since then, Florida has increased that number to 106 drug courts, with at least one in every judicial circuit. In 2011, drug courts in Florida saw about 10,000 participants. The felony recidivism rate for drug court participants is 12 percent, compared to the control group’s rate of 40 percent. Florida continues to expand its problem-solving courts, including Veterans’ Courts and Mental Health Courts.


In many other states where drug courts have blossomed (like Texas), incarceration and recidivism rates have been in decline. Despite being a leader and innovator in problem-solving courts, however, Florida’s prison population has grown at a rate of 11.4 times between 1990 and 2009, while its population in general increased only 2.7 times.

Part of the problem may be that despite being a leader in problem-solving courts, Florida still has some of the strictest mandatory minimum sentencing laws in the county, including for drug offenses. In fact, a person could very well end up spending more time in prison for a drug offense than for manslaughter.

This backwards prioritizing is costing Florida taxpayers millions of dollars. Indeed, in 2010, the Florida Department of Corrections was “housing 5,135 inmates serving mandatory drug sentences,” said DOC spokeswoman Jo Ellen Rackleff. At a cost of $20,108 per year to keep an inmate in prison, mandatory drug sentences were costing Florida almost $103 million.

Florida already has many tools it could use in order to implement more effective, efficient, and affordable alternatives to incarceration, particularly for those addicted to drugs. Drug courts have worked, and continue to work in Florida. It is time for policy-makers in Florida to do their part in reforming the mandatory minimum-sentencing laws that are costing taxpayers millions of dollars and no longer serving their intended purpose.


Justice Reinvestment Package Signed in Pennsylvania

Earlier this month, Right on Crime posted about Pennsylvania’s Justice Reinvestment Working Group, which was launched with the support of Governor Tom Corbett. The group was created to suggest policies that would reduce corrections spending and reinvest those savings into measures to improve public safety.

Today, Governor Corbett signed into effect the second and final piece of the Working Group’s Reinvestment Legislation package. H.B. 135, which was passed unanimously in both chambers of the legislature, is the follow-up to H.B. 100. Where H.B. 100 included policy changes, H.B. 135 calls for the reinvestment of those savings into county-level law enforcement and incarceration alternatives.

H.B. 135 seeks to reduce both incarceration rates and recidivism. Specifically, it “will use $86 million to directly support many of the initiatives that include increased programming for release for non-violent offenders, expediting programming for short-time non-violent offenders and aggressively utilizing alternative sentencing for non-violent offenders and the increased use of treatment programs.”

Taken together, H.B. 100 and H.B. 135, will have a tremendous effect on Pennsylvania: first, on taxpayers, saving more than $250 million in five years; second, on communities, by creating a more efficient corrections system and making them safer; and finally, on offenders, by allowing for more efficient communication technology to increase parole hearing capacity.

For Governor Corbett, this is part of an ongoing effort to be “as smart as we are tough on crime.” He concludes that by “[w]orking together, we can deal with crime in a way that will redeem more offenders, appropriately incarcerates violent offenders and sexual predators, and keeps us all from being held prisoner to the growing costs of locking up the bad guys.”


How Texas Holds Drug Offenders Accountable

Earlier this year, Governor Rick Perry signed an executive order reauthorizing the Texas Criminal Justice Advisory Council to advise the governor on the creation, staffing, operations and performance of state drug courts.

The order was signed based on the conclusion that “specialty courts, such as drug courts, veterans’ courts, DWI courts, mental health courts and family courts, are believed to be a humane and cost-effective method to prevent nonviolent offenders with substance abuse or mental health problems from unnecessarily entering the criminal justice system.”

These findings were based on the fact that drug court participants in Texas have significantly lower re-arrest rates and re-incarceration rates, and they cost taxpayers significantly less money per participant.

How Texas Holds Drug Offenders Accountable


Waste Not, Want Not?

“Waste not, want not,” may have been the golden rule for many of us growing up, but be careful—you may be breaking the law.

Ryan Adams, a Pflugerville resident, was startled one evening by a loud noise that turned out to be a white-winged dove flying into his window.  Upon examination, Adams found the bird to be dead, having broken his neck in the collision with his home.

Dove-season had started the previous day, quite fortuitously, Adams thought. While most people may have buried or thrown away the bird, Adams decided to make the bird his dinner.  Excited about the delicious meal he had discovered, Adams seasoned and grilled the bird. He was so pleased with his find that he made a blog post about the occasion.

In response to his blog post, Adams received a visit from a game warden from the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department, reprimanding him for eating the bird. The problem, explained Steven Lightfoot, a spokesman for the Texas Parks and Wildlife, is that “[i]t is illegal to possess any wildlife resource that has not been taken legally.” He further added that “[b]y legal I mean there are certain means and methods … you have to have a hunting license and you have to have the appropriate weapon and ammunition.”

Adams was not given a ticket, thanks to the sensible discretion of the game warden.  Next time, however, Adams will have to hand the game over to the Texas Parks and Wildlife. While the game warden’s good judgment gave this story a reasonable outcome, it stills seems bizarre that eating a dead dove from one’s lawn could subject a citizen to punishment by the state.


“The Criminalization of the Practice of Law”

Prosecuting a lawyer for her zealous advocacy of a client may seem like an unlikely, even absurd, case, but that is exactly what happened to attorney Lauren Stevens in 2010. In fact, she was indicted twice.

On November 8, 2010, a grand jury for the United States District Court for the District of Maryland indicted Stevens, former Vice President and Associate General Counsel of GlaxoSmithKline (GSK), on six counts. The charges against her included obstruction of a proceeding, falsification and concealment of documents, and making a false statement.

After that case was dismissed without prejudice in March, due to faulty legal instructions to the grand jurors, Stevens was re-indicted in April.

The accusations arose out of Stevens’ response to a Food and Drug Administration inquiry into GSK’s alleged off-label promotion of the anti-depressant drug Wellbutrin. In drafting responses to the requests, which were not subpoenas, Stevens consulted with in-house counsel and obtained outside counsel.

She was able to provide the court with evidence that she acted with advice of counsel and in good faith. Judge Roger Titus of the U.S. district court in Maryland concluded that “[e]very decision that she made and every letter she wrote was done by a consensus. Now, even if some of these statements were not literally true, it is clear that they were made in good faith, which would negate the requisite element required for all six of the crimes charged in this case.”

On May 10, Judge Titus dismissed the case again, this time with prejudice. Judge Titus opined that “[t]here is an enormous potential for abuse in allowing prosecution of an attorney for the giving of legal advice. I conclude that the defendant in this case should never have been prosecuted and she should be permitted to resume her career.”

While this was a reasonable disposition of the case for Judge Titus to make, the problem is that prosecutors were able to get as far as they did. What’s worse, is that Stevens’ case is just an example of a larger problem—that is, if the federal bureaucracy finds it cannot get the company on the underlying issue, then they may resort to prosecuting their in-house counsel or even use the threat of doing so as leverage to exact a settlement.

For Stevens, as she recounted in a conversation with the Law Blog, “It was really hard for me to wrap my head around. The government was able to pierce the attorney-client privilege and get at all the privileged documents from the FDA inquiry, and they tried to make the case that the company had come to me in furtherance of a cover-up or a crime.”

In her view, “the criminalization of the practice of law is here, and I don’t think it’s necessarily going away. The government will continue to be aggressive in looking at in-house counsel. I know sometimes it feels like we have a target on our back.”

In defense of the seemingly wasteful prosecution, Assistant Attorney General Lanny A. Breuer of the Criminal Division, stated, “if we find credible evidence of criminal conduct—by corporate executives or the lawyers and accountants who advise them—we will not hesitate to charge it.”

However, cases like Lauren Stevens’ leaves one wondering what that standard of “credible” is, and how far the criminalization of individuals for underlying corporate conduct could go.