Pinellas has a higher arrest rate for drug possession than just about any other county in Florida. A new report from Human Rights Watch and the ACLU puts Pinellas in the top five counties in Florida and recommends treatment for drug dependency instead of arrests. I recently spoke about this with the elected public defender for Pinellas and Pasco Counties, Bob Dillinger.
“Pinellas leads — is one of the top people in prosecution of possession of drugs – not sales, but, possession. The largest offense for which people are arrested, in the United States, is possession of a drug and brought to Florida rehab center.
“The report from the ACLU recommends treatment, rather than criminalization.”
When you say “top” you mean more people are arrested here in Pinellas?
“We’re in the top 7 of the whole state and county-wide for arrests on simple drug possession. Drug possession should really be a medical issue, not a criminal justice issue, but, when you see the statistics that the report has in there, it’s really out — I mean it’s shocking that we spend so much of our resources in jails, prisons, and drug courts, etc., on criminalizing a medical issue.”
But the county and some cities are doing things to decriminalize. What can be done to help?
“We have to do more of that. We certainly don’t–if it’s against the law, we can’t ignore it–but, we can treat it in such a way that we help the person.
“It’s an addiction issue, it’s a medical issue, it should not be a criminal justice issue that prohibits you from getting housing, getting a job, and having a criminal record. We need to address it in a way that treats the real issue, which is addiction.”
The report also found a racial disparity in drug possession arrests in several Florida counties. The ratio of black to white arrest rates was nearly 8 to 1 in Sarasota County and more than 4 to 1 in Pinellas and Manatee.
The report is called “Every 25 Seconds. The Human Toll of Criminalizing Drug Use in the United States.”
Watch this interview. The section about drug arrests is the second half of the interview: