The Florida Department of Corrections houses almost 100,000 inmates in its 63 state prisons, costing taxpayers nearly $3 billion on incarceration and supervision. Florida sends 30,000 people to prison each year. Between 2005 and 2015, Florida’s incarceration rate grew by 18%, while the national rate was only 3%. Florida law requires that people serve at least 85% of their sentences and has abolished parole. It has a 33% recidivism rate within 3 years of release, and that rate increases to 65% after five years. Florida’s harsh sentencing laws are outdated, a waste of taxpayer dollars and don’t improve public safety.
In 2019, Florida passed its first piece of criminal justice reform legislation. Representative Paul Renner (R-District 24) drove this legislation to increase threshold amounts for certain theft offenses; revise criminal penalties for driving offenses; establish criteria for expungement for certain convictions; and create the Task Force on the Criminal Punishment Code.
Florida Senator Jeff Brandes (R-St. Petersburg) also introduced a bill in 2019 that would have eliminated mandatory minimum life sentences; however, it was indefinitely postponed and withdrawn from consideration in early 2020.
Twenty-nineteen was a breakthrough year for Florida criminal justice reform; however there is a lot more work to be done to reduce Florida’s overcrowded prison population. Florida spends more on the Florida Department of Corrections than it does on higher education which is especially concerning. Florida leads the nation in the number of children 17 years old or younger incarcerated in the state prison system and it has to reduce the number of children prosecuted as adults. Florida needs to eliminate the restriction that prevents parole. Parole is an excellent way for offenders to adapt to normal life, develop new and good habits, and be involved with friends and family that can help them stay on the right track. Eliminating mandatory minimums would be an excellent step for the state of Florida as it would open up the opportunity for judges in the state to fit the punishment to the specific case. Finally, drug courts would be a major advantage to the Florida criminal justice system as they would provide substance abuse offenders with the ability to receive rehabilitative treatment and help divert people out of the system, rather than just be locked away. These courts have been proven to reduce the risk of recidivism and should be implemented in Florida.
Identification of legislation should not be considered an endorsement of support of, or opposition to, such bills.
2019 Florida First Step Press Release: Reform Groups Applaud “Florida First Step Act”