According to lawmakers, the proposed “gain-time” provision would’ve made a positive impact. Estimates suggest that around 9,000 inmates could have been removed from the prison system by the 2023 fiscal year.
Florida is no stranger when it comes to deteriorating conditions in correctional facilities.
Recent scandals at state prisons have prompted lawmakers to act on behalf of the prisoners and their families. The state houses over 100,000 inmates, and state legislators are targeting the Department of Corrections for reform. A video posted on YouTube showing Lake Correctional Institution guards in Clermont beating an inmate within an inch of his life may have prompted the move.
Since the release of the video, legislators have made unannounced visits to Florida state prisons. If you are concerned about an incarcerated family member, please don’t hesitate to use an online service to search inmates in Florida for your peace of mind.
How Can Florida’s Criminal Justice Reforms Affect the Prison System?
Florida’s criminal justice system reforms went into effect last September. Lawmakers passed the resolution during the 2019 Florida Legislature session. I hope for real opportunities for Florida’s prison system. One of the goals is to reduce the number of people incarcerated in the already overcrowded state prisons by adjusting old laws that sent people to jail even for minor offenses.
Here’s what’s new:
- Theft now becomes a felony when the amount stolen reaches $750, up from $300.
- Adults convicted of a drug offense will have their license suspended for six months. The old law revoked licenses for a year.
- The new law repeals all bases for the license suspension of minors caught for possession or purchase of nicotine, tobacco, and alcohol.
- The law also repeals the license suspension of minors who lie about their age or military service to obtain such contraband.
- The mandatory suspension of a minor’s driver’s license for possession of a firearm now converts to a discretionary suspension.
- The mandatory suspension of a minor’s driver licenses for graffiti is now discretionary.
- The new law repeals the authority of the court to suspend a driver’s license due to an adjudication of guilt for a misdemeanor offense, such as theft.
- The law repeals the driver’s license suspension for adults convicted of giving alcohol to minors.
- The time limits to report a crime is now extended to five days. It used to be 72 hours.
- The new laws extend the time limit during which crime victims can apply for victim compensation, from one year to three years.
- The licensing board for contractors, barbers, and cosmetologists can no longer reject applicants convicted of a non-violent offense if it happened more than five years ago.
- For specific offenses, it’s no longer a requirement for prosecutors to “direct file” charges against minors (16 – 17-year-olds) to the adult criminal justice system.
The Bottom Line
While these reforms are a step in the right direction, advocates of criminal justice reform feel that the bill was a disappointment. Even though the new laws increased the threshold for theft to become a felony, $750 is still the lowest in the entire Southeast. State legislators wanted to expand it to at least $1,000, but the Florida Retail Federation wanted a more modest number. Georgia, Alabama, and South Carolina all have limits of $1,200 and above.
One significant omission from the original bill could have helped address the overcrowding problem in state prisons. Judges would have been allowed to forego “mandatory minimum” sentences in drug trafficking cases. Another critical provision would have reduced the penalties of non-violent offenders. Sentences would be reduced from 85% of time served to 65% if they showed good behavior.
According to lawmakers, the proposed “gain-time” provision would’ve made a positive impact. Estimates suggest that around 9,000 inmates could have been removed from the prison system by the 2023 fiscal year. The move could’ve saved as much as $860 million. Thankfully, legislators filed another similar proposal for next year’s session.