Florida capitol building

The following is a statement from the Crime and Justice Institute’s Director of Policy & Campaigns Len Engel regarding the conclusion of the legislature’s 2018 session and next steps after the significant progress on criminal justice reform led by state Sen. Jeffrey Brandes.

“Throughout this session, many in the Florida state legislature expressed a strong desire for impactful policies to reduce the state’s incarcerated population, which numbers nearly 100,000 and ranks third-largest in the nation. While Florida has reduced the number of people it sends to prison both in admissions and in revocations, our recent data analysis show the prison population is projected to grow due to increases in sentence lengths and in lengths of stay.

“While frustrating that the hard work of many legislators was thwarted in the final hours of the session when legislation to address Florida’s overburdened criminal justice system did not get a vote on the floor, the momentum created this session will only grow. Senator Brandes showed great leadership in putting together a package of evidence-based recommendations and working with his colleagues in both chambers to develop the substantive policies in SB 1218.

“In 2017, the Florida legislature hired CJI to conduct an assessment of the Florida criminal justice system. Our team reviewed Florida’s data, interviewed stakeholders, and evaluated its laws to identify trends contributing to Florida’s massive prison system. CJI produced a report in the spring of 2017 and presented its findings to the Senate Appropriations Subcommittee on Civil and Criminal Justice in the fall.  Seeking solutions to the problems presented, the Florida Senate continued working with CJI to further study the system, assess Florida’s policies against those of other states and develop responsive policy options. CJI’s comprehensive report, Data-Driven Solutions to Improve Florida’s Criminal Justice System, detailed opportunities and policy recommendations to safely reduce the prison population and improve the administration of justice.

“The foundation and support established by organizations on both sides of the aisle such as Right on Crime, Families Against Mandatory Minimums, James Madison Institute, Southern Poverty Law Center, ACLU and Koch Industries helped set the stage for SB 1218’s unlikely progress this session. This left-right coalition of groups has been a game-changer in states across the country in passing comprehensive criminal justice reform and, while 1218 didn’t cross the finish line, it helped pass groundbreaking legislation by Rep. Chris Sprowls improving the collection of criminal justice data across the state. The commitment to studying the data, drafting recommendations and building broad support of comprehensive legislation demonstrates how far Florida has come in understanding the needs of its corrections system and the precarious situation it faces with imminent growth. It is evident that the Florida legislature is not only ready for, but wants ambitious and significant policy change.

“Our research shows Florida can reduce its overuse of mandatory minimum and sentence enhancement statutes, revise its Criminal Punishment Code, and reserve its 85-percent requirement exclusively for violent offenders. The legislature has signaled it is ready to make such proposals a reality and we fully expect this effort to continue in the coming months and carry into the next session.”

Below are links to CJI’s reports and presentations analyzing Florida’s data and recommending responsive policy options. Additionally Len Engel, Director of Policy and Campaigns, is available for media inquiries to discuss these policies and next steps.