Is it time to reconsider parole?
Florida, like most states, used to have a system of parole, where sentenced inmates could earn an early release with good behavior in prison. The people released early were monitored as if they were on probation. Then a series of highly publicized events in which parolees committed new violent crimes caused an uproar and legislators, never one to miss a popular cause and align themselves with the "tough on crime" crowd, did away with parole in Florida.
It's never good to make a wide ranging change in policy based on a media-fed frenzy.
Parole existed in Florida from 1941 until 1983, when the first version of Florida's sentencing guidelines were adopted. At the time, parole was essentially replaced with a system that institutionalized a thirty three percent reduction in a sentence, based on good behavior in prison.
Then a series of highly publicized crimes committed by prisoners who were released "early" caused an uproar and legislators, never one to miss a popular cause and align themselves with the "tough on crime" crowd, did away with most of the sentencing guidelines and early release.
Sense a pattern?
But here is the question: with crime rates falling, and with decades of research proving that there are less expensive and equally effective alternatives to prison available, is it time to re-consider parole?
There are moral reasons. If we are truly a society based on Judeo-Christian ethics, then don't we believe in redemption? Are people just that bad that a conviction for sale of of a few ounces of cocaine with a prior for burglary of a vehicle at age eighteen requires twenty years in prison? There are sound scientific surveys that show that people age out of their criminal conduct in their mid-forties. But a pain-killer addict found with enough oxycontin faces a twenty-five year minimum mandatory. And make no mistake, there are simple drug addicts serving that quarter-century sentence in our state.
In the early 1980's Florida was suffering from the simultaneous plagues of crack cocaine and the immigration wave from Mariel, Cuba. Many of the people who arrived from Mariel (not all) were released from Catsro's prisons. Cuba's incarceration problem became Miami's. It was a brilliant and bold stroke by Castro, but the unintended consequences were that many Floridians were caught up in the draconian response to the crack fueled crime wave that followed.
Today, the tragedies that make headlines are the crazy people who empty automatic weapons into classrooms at schools- but lets not get crazy and restrict a lunatic's right to purchase a semi-automatic rifle with a high capacity magazine and armor piercing bullets.
Maybe, just maybe, we can apply the go-slow approach of gun control to incarceration.
A good place to start would be the hundreds if not thousands of Florida's inmates serving decades for non-violent drug offenses. Drugs are the scourge of society. But for every dealer imprisoned, a new one, lured by the easy money, takes his or her place. Prison is not the answer for most drug crimes.
Then we can look at the felony murder rule and consider parole for the hundreds if not thousands of people serving minimum mandator sentences for driving the get-away-car or, walking into the store with their friend who, unbeknownst to them, had a firearm.
We should consider parole. It's cheaper then prison. It's effective. And it's the moral thing to do.
"Let he who has not sinned, cast the first stone." Somebody important once said that, right?
See you in court.
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