Florida Misses Opportunity to Take Meaningful Steps Towards Criminal Justice Reform
In May, unfortunately, Florida missed out on a huge opportunity to enact significant criminal justice reform. Instead of passing Senate Bill 642–which would have reversed the mass incarceration policies that began throughout the state in the mid-1980s as a result of the state legislature imposing minimum mandatory sentencing for nonviolent drug crimes–unfortunately, the state Senate had to accept much weaker house bill, or face nothing whatsoever passing.
The History Of Florida’s Crowded Prisons
In 1994, the Florida Legislature required all inmates to serve 85 percent of their sentences, resulting in a system with hundreds of thousands of inmates and a corrections budget of more than 2.5 billion dollars. This is still the case, even though other states have made significant amount of progress demonstrating that releasing certain nonviolent inmates does not compromise public safety.
Scare Tactics Versus Reality
While the Senate Bill would have allowed judges to depart from the minimum mandatory sentences for nonviolent drug offenders and reduced that 85 percent sentence threshold to 65 percent, House leaders, Governor Ron DeSantis, the Florida Sheriffs Association, and the Florida Prosecuting Attorneys Association reportedly used scare tactics to argue that the Senate bill, if passed, would reverse Florida’s decrease in crime and provide a “get out of jail free card” for criminals that law-enforcement worked hard to get off the streets.
However, nothing could be farther from the truth: for example, reducing the sentence of someone who is serving 36 months to 65 percent would simply reduce their sentence by seven months. In addition, nonviolent offenders who do not go to prison would still be subject to state supervision and incarceration if they violated a judge’s order. In addition—for those concerned about how much money is spent on corrections in general here in Florida—these offenders would not require prison space, which could save around $30 million per year.
So What Was Accomplished?
It is important to acknowledge that the House bill does represent some progress and at least provide for ex-felons to more easily be able to obtain occupational licenses, as well as reduce the number of juveniles who are sentenced as adults, there is no question that it does not go far enough. For example, the felony threshold for theft has now only been raised to $750, even though inflation alone has far surpassed this amount being significant enough to warrant charging as a felony.
Contact Our Florida Criminal Defense Attorneys
Florida has not gone far enough to enact meaningful reform when it comes to how it charges and treats criminal defendants. If you have been accused of a crime, contact our experienced Miami & Orlando criminal defense attorneys at the Baez Law Firm today to find out how we can help.