A recent study by the Pew Center on the States found that Florida leads the nation in long prison sentences, concluding that Florida's taxpayers pay over $1 billion per year to keep prisoners incarcerated.

The study analyzed data from 35 states and prisoner release data in 2009, comparing it to release data from 1990. It concluded that Florida prisoners were being sentenced to much longer terms than prisoners in other states. In all the states surveyed, the study found that prisoners were serving an average of nine months longer than in 1990.

In Florida, sentences for violent crime grew from 2.1 years to 5 years, a 137 percent increase. The average drug-related sentence increased from 0.8 years to 2.3 years, representing a 194 percent increase. Sentences for property-related crimes grew from an average of 0.9 years to 2.7 years, a 181 percent increase.

So why are Florida's prison sentences so long? There are several reasons; however, the longer sentences can mainly be attributed to Florida's tough sentencing laws. Beginning in the 1990s and in response to the drug wars, Florida enacted very tough criminal laws. This included laws that mandated "truth in sentencing" requirements for all crimes and a "10-20-life" law for possessing or using a firearm during the commission of a crime. These laws greatly added to the length of the average prisoner's sentence.

Several states, including many of Florida's neighbors, are revamping their laws so that prisoners can serve less time and earn an earlier release, saving the states money. Florida's legislature passed a bill to reduce sentences for nonviolent criminals, but Governor Rick Scott vetoed the legislation. At least one Florida legislator has vowed to introduce the legislation again next year.

Due to the harshness of Florida's sentencing laws, those facing criminal charges may benefit from the help of an experienced criminal attorney. A staunch advocate who understands the current laws can advise those facing allegations about their legal rights and the possibility of shorter sentences or less severe penalties.

Source: The Orlando Sentinel, "Florida leads nation in longer prison sentences, study finds," Aaron Deslatte.