When it comes to reforming the state’s criminal justice system, one state senator calls it a “new day in the Florida Legislature.”
“I think you’re seeing bold, bold decisions being made on both sides,” said Sen. Jeff Brandes, R-St. Petersburg, who chairs the Senate budget subcommittee on criminal justice. “But I think what’s encouraging is you’re seeing the left and the right come together on an issue that really does affect every one of our Floridians and come up with decisions that ultimately lead to better outcomes.”
Brandes made his comments during a news conference held at the state Capitol to highlight a new report called, Reforming Criminal Justice. The report is the product of more than 120 professors and researchers, including one from Florida State University, who have compiled their findings into the multi-volume report that was financed by the Charles Koch Institute.
The report is intended to help state’s like Florida as they tackle criminal justice reform.
Among the issues Florida lawmakers are considering this year is raising the limits on property theft before a crime is considered to be a felony, revising minimum sentencing guidelines and supervised release as an alternative to cash bail bonds.
There is also a proposed constitutional amendment that, if were to make it the ballot, would provide the automatic restoration of civil rights for ex-felons.
“Florida is a very conservative state. It’s a very big state,” said Vikrant Reddy, who serves as a senior research fellow at the institute. “So, when Florida moves on criminal justice reform, people across the country take it very, very seriously. People will say, ‘Gosh, look at what Florida did. If Florida was able to do this then we can do it also.’”
Backers of the report say the issue of criminal justice reform is one issue that all sides can reach agreement on regardless of political or social views. They say the current criminal justice system in our country is very expensive and very ineffective.
“Although advocates may differ as to their motivations — political, social, economic, religious — they agree something needs to be done about criminal justice reform in America,” said Erik Luna, editor and project director of the Reforming Criminal Justice report.
“There is an openness and a willingness to have to have this conversation. I think it’s time has come in Florida,” said House Justice Appropriations chair, Rep. Cord Byrd, R-Neptune Beach. “So whether its felony thresholds, whether it’s the restoration of civil rights, there’s a broad conversation happening and this report provides the data that could produce that change.”