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Joe Henderson: Jeff Brandes’ push for criminal justice reform just makes sense

in The Bay and the 'Burg/Top Headlines by

State Sen. Jeff Brandes has the right idea.

No politician wants to be tagged with the label of weak on crime, but with Florida’s prison system costing taxpayers more than $2 billion a year, maybe there is a better and more reasonable way to deal with some lawbreakers.

Give Brandes, a Republican, credit, not only for his willingness to explore those options but also bucking the trend in his own party while doing so. U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions recently sent a memo directing prosecutors around the country to seek maximum penalties for serious offenses, including drug crimes.

That could trigger lengthy mandatory minimum sentences for offenders, which critics complain leave prosecutors and judges hamstrung to fairly administer justice.

Brandes is part of a growing bipartisan movement that commonsense approach to crime and punishment.

“We don’t have to go out and reinvent the wheel,” Brandes said in a story for SaintPetersBlog.com. “(Other states) been able to have a meaningful impact and still reduce recidivism and overall crime.”

If appealing to the better side of human nature doesn’t mollify hard-liners, maybe the expense of housing inmates will get their attention. According to the most recent statistics from the Florida Department of Corrections, it costs $53.49 per day to house each of the state’s approximately 98,000 inmates.

An offender on community supervision, without electronic monitoring, costs the state only $5.05 per day.

Another fun fact: Nearly 15 percent of Florida’s prison population is made up of drug offenders. More than 12,000 of them have participated in substance abuse treatment.

It would all seem to boil down to the notion that there must be a better way to address crime in Florida and the rest of the nation. That’s not to suggest felons who commit violent crimes get off with a tap on the wrist, but a system where the nation’s top law officer is demanding the harshest penalties in the majority of cases is not the right approach.

Other states are getting on board with the idea of taking a smarter look at sentencing and inmate rehabilitation. Louisiana, which has the nation’s highest incarceration rate, hopes to reduce its prison population by 10 percent in the next decade. Texas, which no one would label soft on crime, also has been tackling prison reform.

If they can do it, Florida can too.

It just makes sense.

Joe Henderson has had a 45-year career in newspapers, including the last nearly 42 years at The Tampa Tribune. He covered a large variety of things, primarily in sports but also including hard news. The two intertwined in the decade-long search to bring Major League Baseball to the area. Henderson was also City Hall reporter for two years and covered all sides of the sales tax issue that ultimately led to the construction of Raymond James Stadium. He served as a full-time sports columnist for about 10 years before moving to the metro news columnist for the last 4 ½ years. Henderson has numerous local, state and national writing awards. He has been married to his wife, Elaine, for nearly 35 years and has two grown sons – Ben and Patrick.

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