Florida Justice Voter asked all candidates for the Florida Legislature to answer 12 questions about key criminal justice reform issues facing our state. On this page, you’ll find additional background information related to each of the questions we asked.
Proposal 1: Second Look Sentencing
It is a near truism in criminology that people age out of crime. However, Florida’s sentencing laws don’t reflect this reality. With more than 100 mandatory minimums on the books, Florida’s laws often require people to stay in prison long after they no longer pose any threat to public safety. As a result, Florida taxpayers spend tens of millions annually incarcerating low-risk people who would have been released safely almost anywhere else. This proposed reform would not release anyone automatically, but it would allow courts to revisit potentially excessive sentences, and reduce them when they can no longer be justified by public safety concerns.
Proposal 2: Gain Time
Most states have parole, and most others allow at least some incarcerated people to earn significant time off their sentences by participating in rehabilitative programming. Florida, however, is one of only a handful of states that requires everyone, including people convicted of low-level, nonviolent offenses, to serve at least 85 percent of their sentence before becoming eligible for release. This proposed reform would allow prisoners to earn additional “gain time” by participating in programs that will help them transition back into society, find employment upon release, and reduce the likelihood of reoffense. It is estimated to save more than $1 billion over five years, including nearly $900 million over five years for nonviolent offenders alone.
Proposal 3: Trafficking Mandatory Minimums
Florida’s mandatory minimum drug trafficking laws are among the harshest in the country. They are also among the least effective. Instead of catching the kingpins for whom they are intended, these laws send thousands of low-level drug offenders to prison at tremendous cost to taxpayers, and have not reduced drug abuse or drug-related crime. While other states have already reformed or repealed their mandatory minimum drug laws – including Georgia, Mississippi, and Louisiana – Florida has resisted meaningful changes. This proposed reform increases the amount of drugs that must be involved in an offense before a mandatory minimum sentence is required, gives judges more sentencing flexibility in low-level drug offenses, allows people currently incarcerated for drug crimes to petition for resentencing.
Proposal 4: Conditional Medical Release/Aging Prisoner Release
Florida incarcerates more than 20,000 elderly prisoners, including nearly 2,000 over the age of 70. Around 45% of elderly prisoners have no prior prison history, and more than 2,600 are incarcerated for drug offenses. Thousands more are chronically ill, with conditions like heart disease, diabetes, and end stage liver disease from Hepatitis C. These people have the lowest risk of recidivism, but are the most expensive to keep incarcerated. This proposed reform creates a conditional aging inmate release program within the Department of Corrections (FDC) and shifts release authority under the conditional medical release program from the Florida Commission on Offender Review (FCOR) to the Department of Corrections.
Proposal 5: 10-20-Life Reform Retroactivity Aggravated Assault
In 2016, the Legislature repealed the mandatory minimum sentence for aggravated assault with a firearm. Under the old law, the mandatory minimum for some aggravated assault offenses was 20 years in prison. Under current law, the maximum punishment is five years in prison. In 2018, Florida voters approved an amendment to the state constitution that allows the Legislature to apply that reform retroactively. This proposed reform would allow people serving sentences imposed before the law changed to petition the court for resentencing.
Proposal 6: Drug-Free Zones
Florida law provides enhanced penalties, including mandatory minimums, for some drug crimes committed within 1,000 feet of specified places. The best available evidence shows that these so-called “Drug-Free Zone” laws are enforced in ways that exacerbate racial disparities, have had no impact on the drug trade, and often produce unjust sentences. In recognition of this evidence, states around the country have reformed Drug-Free Zone laws, either by eliminating mandatory sentencing enhancements, or by narrowing the scope of the relevant zone. This proposed reform reduces Florida’s drug-free zones from 1,000 feet to 500 feet and eliminates the mandatory minimum sentence for this offense.
Proposal 7: Prison Releasee Reoffender Law
Florida’s “Prison Releasee Reoffender” (PRR) law provides that, if a person commits one of a number of crimes within three years of release from a prison, the statutory maximum sentence is the mandatory minimum sentence for that offense. This has led to unjust punishments for many non-serious crimes, including life without parole sentences for hundreds of people who clearly don’t deserve such a harsh punishment. This proposed reform eliminates the life without parole PRR mandatory minimum sentence, reduces the mandatory minimum PRR sentences for other offenses, and applies retroactively.
Proposal 8: Imperfect Self-Defense
Florida’s “10-20-Life” gun sentencing law provides harsh mandatory minimum sentences for some felonies committed with firearms. The disconnect between Florida’s broad self-defense laws and these mandatory minimum sentences leaves law-abiding gun owners at risk of arrest, prosecution, and mandatory prison time, even if they believed their actions were justified. This proposed reform would allow sentencing courts to depart from a 10-20-Life sentence if it finds the defendant had a good faith belief that his or her actions were justified under Florida’s self-defense laws, and that the defendant does not pose a threat to public safety.
Proposal 9: Drug Induced Homicide
Current Florida law makes no distinction between a person who intends to murder another person, and a person who shares illegal drugs with a friend who then overdoses and dies. Both are first-degree murder, and the only legal sentences for both premeditated murder and so-called “drug-induced homicide” are life without parole or the death penalty. This proposed reform would reclassify “drug- induced homicide” from a capital felony to a life felony, which would expand the available sentencing options and restore rational distinctions in Florida’s murder statute.
Proposal 10: Felony Murder
Convicting a person of a murder he or she did not intend, nor personally commit, violates basic tenets of fairness, as well as fundamental principles that underlie American law. Florida’s “felony murder rule” allows convictions for first-degree murder, a capital felony, for any participant in an underlying felony that leads to the death of another. In recognition of the greater blameworthiness of intentional killings, this proposed reform would distinguish felony murder from premeditated murder, and require that a participant in a felony actually kill another, aid or otherwise assist in the killing of another, or act with reckless indifference to human life, before being punished for felony murder.
Proposal 11: Climate Control In Prisons
Unlike most other states, and unlike prisons in Florida run by private contractors, Florida’s state-run prisons are not climate controlled. In the summer months, this means prison dorms can reach temperatures well above 100 degrees. Exposure to extreme heat is dangerous, and even deadly. This proposed reform would mandate that the Florida Department of Corrections maintain its facilities at temperatures between 65 degrees and 85 degrees Fahrenheit.
Proposal 12: Department Of Corrections Ombudsman
Effective, independent oversight of executive agencies is necessary for efficiency, accountability, and transparency in government. This proposed reform would provide independent oversight of the Florida Department of Corrections by creating a department ombudsman. The ombudsman would have authority to conduct investigations, inspect facilities, review department policies and procedures, and make recommendations for improvements. This proposed reform also creates a “Corrections Oversight Committee” comprised of legislators, doctors, and other interested parties, which chooses the ombudsman and reviews the ombudsman’s work.