April 14, 2022

How Did the Florida Legislature Approach Criminal Justice Reform this Past Session?

The 2022 legislative session, which ended in early March, saw both wins and missed opportunities for comprehensive criminal justice reform.  


Out of the many bills that were introduced in both chambers that would either overhaul or improve the current criminal justice landscape in Florida, only a very few got approved by the Legislature. Amongst them are HB 195/SB 342, legislation that would allow for the expunction of juvenile felony arrests, and SB 752, which relates to supervision services for misdemeanor offenders. 

HB 195/SB 342, sponsored by Rep. David Smith and Sen. Keith Perry, would allow for the expunction of nonjudicial arrest records of minors who have completed a diversion program for specified felony offenses, rather than only for misdemeanor offenses as current law prescribes. Under this bill, Florida’s youths may expunge their arrest and felony records — except for forcible felonies such as murder, rape, and kidnapping. It is estimated that roughly 26,000 juveniles would benefit from this legislation, and these kids would be offered a second chance to pursue economic and academic opportunities. This, in turn, would help them in working toward a brighter future. A similar version of the bill was approved by the Legislature in 2021; however, it was vetoed by Gov. Ron DeSantis, who claimed that the bill carried potential risks to public safety. 

CS/SB 752, sponsored by Sen. George Gainer and Sen. Jason Pizzo, would repeal the statutory ban on private entities that are supplying probationary or supervision services to misdemeanor offenders who are sentenced by a circuit court. Current law only permits private agencies to render probationary and supervision services to offenders sentenced by a county court. Moreover, the bill grants those who are on probation the option to report remotely, and it also mandates the department of corrections (DOC) to implement a “graduated incentive system” that would encourage employment and other social achievements by deducting 60 days off probation terms. This would undoubtedly help many Floridians who face incarceration due to failing to report to their officers because of an unexpected emergency, their work schedules, and limited financial means.  

Missed Opportunities

Many bills, some with provisions that would herald sustainable reform, failed to move out of their committees. This includes legislation that would have reduced the incarcerated population by lowering the state’s “85 percent rule,” a law requiring those convicted to serve 85 percent of their sentence; a bill that would have stopped Florida’s decade-long practice of sending children to adult prison; a measure that would have helped those with past convictions acquire professional licensing; and legislation that would have made it easier for formerly incarcerated people to reintegrate into their communities. 

SB1118/HB87, sponsored by Rep. Kevin Chambliss and Sen. Keith Perry, aimed to improve certain workforce opportunities for those with a criminal record. It included provisions to shorten the period during which licenses can be denied for certain professions solely on the basis of a past criminal conviction, and to eliminate “good moral character” as a disqualifying criterion for certain types of occupational licenses. The measure would have also established a pipeline program allowing applicable licensing boards to approve the credits applicants received from the DOC’s educational programs to be counted towards licensing training requirements. If this bill had been approved, it would have helped pave a better economic future for hundreds of Floridians who are constrained by the collateral damages of a criminal record. Studies have indicated that having the ability to earn a livable wage is one of the strongest deterrents of re-offense. This legislation would have undoubtedly boosted workforce opportunities, thereby lowering individuals’ chances of reincarceration, and helped to save millions in taxpayers dollars over the years.

HB 6079/ SB 762, sponsored by Rep. Vance Aloupis and Sen. Ana Maria Rodriguez, would have repealed the state’s outdated ban on Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) and Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF) for people with past drug trafficking convictions if the offense occurred after August 22, 1996. SNAP and TANF are federal safety net programs that provide support for people with low income to meet basic their needs. SNAP helps households buy food, while TANF provides families who care for children with short-term financial assistance. This bill would have rendered substantial benefits for formerly incarcerated individuals, who face numerous challenges, including food insecurity and homelessness. 

Although much more could have been done this past session regarding criminal justice reform, the few wins ought to be lauded. There is still a lot of work to be done, and hopefully, the Legislature will respond more urgently to the need for substantive reform.

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