Monday, April 24, 2017

Dear Florida Legislators
RE: SB 150 / HB477

As lead organizer of the grassroots community organization Suncoast Harm Reduction Project, I wish to make the position of the mothers and families in our community known re: HB 477 / SB 150.

We stand in opposition to both these bills unless amended to include judicial discretion.

I lost both my sister and my mother to accidental overdose. I’ve witnessed my son spend 5 days on life support and then get up and use drugs again. I’ve been to court maybe 50 times with family members dealing with drug related “crimes”.   Reading this you may find it counterintuitive that I, our organization, and most of the families we’ve worked with stand against the current Florida legislation promoting tougher sentencing in the face of our opioid overdose crisis.

Our collective up close and personal experiences with the ravages of addictive illness have taught us that more punitive incarceration is not the answer. As more families become affected by opioid use, many parents have educated themselves, concluding that we need to treat this medical disorder as a public health crisis. History shows that supply never drives demand. Assuming the intent of these bills is to combat addictive illness, we view these bills as strictly supply interdiction, and having no effect on the public health crisis. This approach equates to ineffective use of taxpayer dollars.

In 2015, there were 1,488,707 arrests for drug law violations. As a country, we are now dealing with the overincarceration of drug offenders.  Those convicted of drug charges are subject to exclusion from public benefits, housing, college grants, employment and even voting.  Cycling in and out of the criminal justice system and resulting barriers to social services has become the greatest roadblocks to sustained employment and meaningful recovery.

Despite theories that mandatory minimums will target only those selling specific substances, in practice nearly every individual suffering from addictive illness finds it necessary - at some point -  to engage in behavior that is often construed as sales. The resulting mandatory minimum sentences imposed on vulnerable populations in need of health services creates long term familial and community voids – these communities report increased violence, which also puts law enforcement at greater risk of harm.

Increased penalties of the “crack epidemic” taught us that longer, tougher sentences and mandatory minimums did more harm than good. Families of color were disproportionally affected, even though rates of drug use show no racial disparities.   What is their goal in this overcriminalization?  If it is to curb drug use, it has proven to have gotten worse over the past 45 years after 1 trillion+ dollars spent.  Can Florida afford to spend a million dollars locking up one person for life rather than investing in the community with treatment and other life-saving resources?  In Florida prison spending continues to rise, while spending on addiction treatment is gutted.

We urgently call for health-oriented strategies to stop the irresponsible waste of lives, dollars and resources.
Julia Negron, CAS
Suncoast Harm Reduction Project  
Sarasota / Manatee counties

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