IN 1999, THE state of Florida reinstated strict mandatory minimum sentences to crack down on opioid abuse. Thereafter, illegally possessing just 28 oxycodone pills could put a person away for no less than 15 years on a trafficking charge. The effort has been an abject failure.
In 2014, the Florida legislature tweaked the law in response to concerns that the tough sentences were mostly ensnaring low-level offenders. It now takes roughly 50 oxycodone pills to trigger a 15-year mandatory minimum.
But the reform was not retroactive. As a result, hundreds of inmates who were sentenced before the changes are serving far more time than they should be, and the state Department of Corrections is saddled with an aging prison population.
2,310 inmates are serving sentences in Florida for "trafficking" opioids. (as of December 2016)
435 are over the age of 50--the point at which prisoners are defined as elderly in Florida.
63% are first-time offenders.
50% were arrested for possessing or selling fewer than 30 pills. (*)
30 pills--that's fewer than many pain patients receive in a single month's prescription.
FLORIDA ENTRAPS PAIN PATIENTS, FORCES THEM TO SNITCH, THEN LOCKS THEM UP FOR DECADES
Facing extended time behind bars, many accused drug dealers agree to serve as confidential informants in exchange for shorter sentences. But lower-level offenders-who have few connections in the drug world--end up serving sentences above the mandatory on average, while those convicted of higher-level trafficking offenses tend to serve sentences below the mandatory.
Matt Davis says he and his brother were dope sick when they agreed to buy 300 oxycodone pills. Their dealer turned out to be a confidential informant. Davis, then a 24-year-oid college student, became addicted to opioids after a car accident. Facing 25 years in prison, both brothers took plea deals under which they will serve 10 years apiece.
Nancy Ortiz was a 49-year-old woman with a documented history of mental health issues. She received 25 years in prison after she was entrapped into selling...