While many “red” states enact criminal justice changes, Florida has stood still and its prison population continues to grow, critics say. They are pushing for reforms in next year’s legislative session.
While red-leaning states like Oklahoma, Texas, Georgia and Louisiana have made significant criminal justice reforms over the past decade, Florida’s GOP-led legislature has stood still. Thirty-three states have implemented such reforms since 2007, while Florida’s prison population continues to grow, with the state now spending more than $2.4 billion a year to incarcerate nearly 100,000 people, the third-largest prison population in the U.S., reports Florida Politics. Hoping to reverse that trend by pushing for measures addressing juvenile justice, adult citation programs and mandatory minimums is the Florida Campaign for Criminal Justice Reform, a coalition of groups including the Southern Poverty Law Center and the American Civil Liberties Union, which is intent on seeing some changes made next year. Members of the coalition met before in Tampa on Monday.
Raymer Maguire, the ACLU of Florida’s criminal justice manager, said the campaign is focused on encouraging rehabilitation over punishment, and preparing incarcerated individuals for a life post-release that allows them to have housing, jobs and to become productive members of society. Florida sends more children to adult prisons than any other state. From 2005-2015, the national average prison population increase was 3 percent. In Florida it was 18 percent, the nation’s highest. “The system is broken, and it’s been broken for a long time,” said state Sen. Darryl Rouson. Among bills he’s sponsoring include reducing raising the monetary value for felony theft offenses from the current $300 threshold to $1,000. The $300 figure has not been adjusted since 1986. The national average is $1,100, and in southern states, it’s over $1,400. The Florida Retail Federation is opposing the proposal.