The Future of Prison Reform in Florida


By Jessica Weiss

Attempts to reform the way criminals are sentenced and how much time they spend behind bars have made little headway in the Florida legislature in recent years.

But following the passage of federal criminal justice reform in December, it seems state legislators from both parties may be ready to take a new look at reforming the state’s prison system.

Republican State Senator Jeff Brandes of St. Petersburg recently filed Senate Bill 642, the “Florida First Step Act,” which would allow judges to depart from mandatory minimums for drug trafficking charges. It also calls for allowing inmates to earn more time off their sentence if they earn a diploma or participate in an entrepreneurship program.

It’s one of a number of criminal justice reform-related bills Brandes has filed for the upcoming legislative session.

“Brandes seems to be pretty confident about it,” Health News Florida’s Julio Ochoa said Friday on The Florida Roundup. “He’s watching prison costs rise incrementally and he’s trying to find a way to slow that down so that we can reform prisoners instead of warehouse them.”

Florida is home to the third largest prison system in the country. It incarcerates approximately 96,000 inmates in correctional facilities and supervises nearly 166,000 offenders as part of community supervision programs. Thirty-six percent of inmates are imprisoned for nonviolent drug and property offenses.

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