Florida Set to Follow Congress’ Lead on Criminal Justice Reform

The Daily Signal | 3/11/2019 | Staff
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Jacob Paolillo is a member of the Young Leaders Program at The Heritage Foundation.

Jonathan Zalewski is a visiting legal fellow and Koch associate at The Heritage Foundation.

Justice - Reform - Florida - Footsteps - Legislation

Criminal justice reform in Florida is poised to follow in the footsteps of federal legislation signed into law by President Donald Trump in December.

It’s an issue that has gained substantial traction at both the state and federal level.

Florida - First - Step - Act - Florida

The Florida First Step Act, drafted by Florida State Sen. Jeff Brandes, was passed unanimously by the Criminal Justice Committee of the Florida Legislature on March 4, and is now pending consideration by two other committees.

Brandes, a Pinellas County Republican, has been a leader on criminal justice reform, introducing nine other bills this year focused on improving the system. But the Florida First Step Act is the most comprehensive.

First - Step - Act - Congress - December

Modeled after the federal First Step Act, which Congress passed in late December with strong bipartisan support, the Florida bill includes only the “best ideas” from its federal counterpart, he says.

Among those reforms, the bill would give judges more discretion over the sentencing of certain nonviolent drug offenders, in lieu of mandatory-minimum sentences.

Bill - Reductions - Days - Sentences - Inmates

Additionally, the bill provides reductions of up to 60 days in the sentences of inmates who complete a Prison Entrepreneurship Program, or receive a GED or certain vocational certifications.

The bill would also create a “release-orientation program” that links prisoners to community resources upon release.

Bill - Florida - Justice - System - Ways

If enacted, the bill would significantly reform Florida’s criminal justice system in other ways as well.

Currently, Florida prisons house roughly 100,000 prisoners, about 85,000 of whom are due to re-enter society within the next five years. Of those in prison, 52.6 percent have no prior prison sentences, and 16 percent are imprisoned for drug-related offenses.

Bill - Provision - Minimums - Drug - Offenders

The bill’s major provision, to eliminate mandatory minimums for first-time, nonviolent drug offenders, would reduce those numbers, as evidenced...
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