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Should Non-Violent Drug Offenders Get Rehab In Lieu Of Prison? Florida Says Yes, Rick Scott Says No

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Recently, Florida Governor Rick Scott vetoes a largely popular bill that would have sent non-violent drug offenders to treatment facilities after they had completed half of their jail sentences. In his explanation, Governor Scott cited “public safety” as one of the main reasons why he did not feel comfortable signing the bill into law. This is a curious statement, as the only inmates that would have received this money saving benefit would have been non-violent offenders. The bill was one of the few items that was not hotly contested during Florida’s legislative session, and it was only opposed by four state lawmakers.

Non-Violent Drug Offenders

How It Passed

In fact, lawmakers overwhelmingly approved the bill and got it through Florida’s House (112-4) and Senate (40-0). Lawmakers were persuaded by arguments that explained how much money could be saved by offering non-violent drug offenders rehab, as opposed to a full jail term. If the bill had become law, an individual serving a prison sentence for a non-violent drug charge would have been released after serving half of their sentence, and placed into a rehabilitation facility to help with their drug addiction. The person would remain in custody during treatment, only not in a jail.


Critics of the bill, including Governor Scott, believe that allowing a person to only serve half of their sentence would be a slap in the face to the victims of the crimes. By ignoring the underlying issue, namely drug addiction, Governor Scott is only exacerbating the very problem he is trying to curtail. If a person is going to successfully reenter society after serving any amount of time in prison for a non-violent drug offenders, they must first get help in a residential rehabilitation treatment center. If not, odds are that person, after being released from a full prison term, will be back on the streets using right away.

The Bill

If properly implemented, this bill would have saved taxpayers enormous amounts of money. By helping individuals, whose only “crime” was being addicted to drugs, get the treatment they need to get sober and they would be far less likely to come back to jail. This was a very real chance to have a change in the discourse about drug addiction, not only in Florida, but across the country. Other states would have seen this program working, and might have thought about implementing their own, similar program. Instead, we continue on the endless cycle of incarcerating individuals who are non-violent, and haven’t hurt anyone but themselves. Instead of getting the rehabilitation they desperately need to get their lives back on track, they are thrown into a cell and released as a hardened criminal. Not only does this do nothing to address the public health issue of drug addiction, in reality, it creates more crime.

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