December 5, 2017

Florida Could Improve Public Safety and Free Up Valuable Resources Through Major Criminal Justice Reform

This post was last updated on December 8, 2021. As new policies are announced, FPI will update this page.

As Florida’s response to COVID-19 takes front and center, concern grows for low-income families who struggle to take precautions against the spread of the virus. Although Congress has passed the Families First Coronavirus Response Act to address, at least in part,  the public health crisis and economic fallout from COVID-19, many barriers continue to keep struggling families from accessing the assistance they need during the pandemic. As Florida initiates policies implementing the Act and addressing other barriers to the safety net, FPI will update this form. When available, hyperlinks are provided to agency documents or statements that provide greater detail  about the new policy.

On March 22, 2020, FPI and 44 other organizations sent a letter to Governor DeSantis, leadership in the Legislature and agency heads to urge action on 47 specific policy changes to reduce unnecessary barriers for Florida’s safety net programs in response to the COVID-19 pandemic. See the letter here.

Florida Policy Institute encourages state lawmakers to consider the experience of other states that are part of the Justice Reinvestment Initiative

LAKE MARY, FL – Florida legislators should establish a broad-based criminal justice reform task force as a first step toward instituting major reforms in the criminal justice system, according to the Florida Policy Institute (FPI). In its latest report, Florida Could Improve Public Safety and Free Up Valuable Resources Through Major Criminal Justice Reform, FPI examines the experience of other states that are part of the Justice Reinvestment Initiative (JRI).

“Implementing evidence-based criminal justice reform has support on both sides of the aisle. The state could reinvest those dollars saved through the reforms in public services, while reducing the recidivism rate and enhancing public safety,” said Joseph F. Pennisi, executive director of FPI.

Lawmakers should also favorably consider bipartisan measures that could come before them in the 2018 legislative session that would raise the felony property theft threshold from $300 to $1,500 and permit judges to depart from mandatory minimum sentences for nonviolent drug offenses. These sentencing law reforms have been implemented by other JRI states.

Florida’s prison system is the third largest in the nation, with nearly 100,000 inmates, at a cost pegged at more than $2.4 billion in Fiscal Year 2016. This constitutes approximately half of the total $4.9 billion appropriated for the state’s criminal and civil justice system.

The JRI was formally launched in 2010 by the Bureau of Justice Assistance and The Pew Charitable Trusts. More than 30 states have engaged in the JRI reform process.

States that have already engaged with the JRI did so because of massive budget shortfalls, which were forcing lawmakers to make difficult policy choices in other areas of the budget, along with high and increasing prison populations, high prison costs and little or no demonstrable improvements in public safety outcomes commensurate with the level of investment in the system.

In examining Urban Institute analyses on the experience of JRI states, FPI found that:

  • Missouri projected to save $875 million from FY 2012-2017;
  • Texas saw $1.5 billion in construction savings and $340 million in averted operations costs;
  • Five states that adopted criminal justice reform under the JRI in 2014 and 2015 (Alabama, Idaho, Mississippi, Nebraska and Utah) had combined budget savings or avoided costs projections of over $1.7 billion over two decades; and
  • States were able to reduce recidivism rates and reduce prison populations, while maintaining public safety.

“I urge Florida lawmakers to establish the criminal justice task force in the 2018 legislative session and pave the way for reforms that will benefit Florida communities,” added Pennisi.

The Florida Policy Institute is an independent, nonpartisan and nonprofit organization dedicated to promoting widespread prosperity through timely, thoughtful and objective analysis of state policy issues affecting economic opportunity.

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