For decades, Florida – like the rest of the United States – has relied primarily on incarceration as the so-called solution to criminal justice issues. However, this has created an extraordinarily harsh system that drives too many people into jails and prisons – and costs taxpayers millions – without meaningfully increasing public safety. What’s more, mass incarceration disproportionately affects people of color, particularly black people.
More than 30 states and the federal government have recognized that these “tough-on-crime” policies are counterproductive, and they have responded by adopting data-driven, evidence-based reforms.
Florida lawmakers are finally recognizing that our state’s over-reliance on mass incarceration is unsustainable, ineffective and a threat to public safety. The Legislature is poised to push for some modest reforms in the Florida First Step Act (SB 642 & HB 705). As currently drafted, the Florida First Step Act is less likely to benefit black and brown people and may exacerbate racial disparities in our prison population.
Reforms that overlook the outsized impact of the criminal justice system on communities of color are not ones that our legislature should support. Floridians deserve better justice.
What's the Solution?
The Florida First Step Act, or any criminal justice bill that follows it, should include the following changes:
- Require a racial impact assessment six months after the bill goes into effect and mandate a racial impact statement for future criminal justice bills.
- Eliminate carve-outs so people with a previous convictions who have already served their time can be eligible for judicial discretion in sentencing and have the same opportunities to earn gain time toward an earlier release date.
- Remove the current cap of 15 percent on gain time for currently incarcerated people and anyone who enters prison in the future to incentivize good behavior and rehabilitation.
- Fully fund the Department of Corrections, including previously cut mental health and substance abuse treatment funding and an additional $25 million to create opportunities for rehabilitation.
- Ensure that technical violations of probation or parole do not result in returning to jail or prison.