The momentum for criminal justice reform in the Florida Legislature was promising at the beginning of session. The Senate maintained a stronger position for comprehensive reform than the House, but the end results suggest that a new era of reform is dawning.
Several bills were introduced in both chambers aimed at changing or improving existing criminal justice laws, including measures to address minimum sentencing and the felony theft threshold. It initially seemed that this was the year when Florida would finally catch up with some of the other states’ efforts to abate mass incarceration and adapt a smart-on-crime model. As the legislative session got underway, however, most proposed criminal justice reform bills failed to even make it onto their second committee agenda, a reality that was more pronounced in the House than the Senate. However, there were three victories that suggest Florida is slowly moving toward substantive reform. Summaries of three bills that have been signed into law by Governor Rick Scott are detailed below.
Sponsored by Senator Bracy, the bill, now law, made several changes regarding juvenile justice. Its original version included a section dealing with the minimum age at which a juvenile can be transferred to adult court; that particular clause was supported by various advocacy groups, including the Florida Policy Institute. Unfortunately, it was taken out by a floor amendment in the House. That amendment removed a clause that would promote rehabilitation and second chances for youth offenders.
The current law only determines the overall treatment of a prolific juvenile offender (PJO) who is awaiting a disposition, not a PJO who violates the terms of his/her nonsecure detention. (A PJO is a youth with a high risk for recidivism.) Consequently, the new law deals with these violations. Its provisions go into effect on July 1, 2018.
Most notably, the legislation:
Additionally, SB 1552 supplies new guidelines to be considered in the DRAI. The Department of Juvenile Justice relies on DRAI to evaluate whether a juvenile should be placed in detention care. The bill removed several requirements the DRAI had traditionally included in its assessment, theft of a motor vehicle and possession of a stolen motor vehicle. The aforementioned will take effect in July 1, 2019.
The new law refines the wide range of factors that the DRAI uses, and limits them to:
Passed unanimously in both houses, this bill increases access to education for inmates who are finishing their sentencing.
The bill takes an important step in improving the present state of inmate reentry in Florida. Florida’s current laws do not permit funding for post-secondary education. This new law lifted that ban. Such a change is momentous; it would contribute to prisoners being better educated and equipped with skills upon release. This would, in turn, increase their probability of entering the workforce and reduce their probability of recidivism.
Introduced by Rep. Chris Sprowls, this legislation’s provisions are unprecedented in the state and nationally. Essentially, the bill seeks to create a criminal justice database and amends Florida’s current laws on juvenile and adult civil citation programs.
There are some groundbreaking features in this legislation. It will:
To implement all of the above, the state’s budget has allocated $1.75 million. Florida’s sixth circuit will pilot the project this year while the data-sharing requirements are expected to take effect in 2019.
This new law will promote an unparalleled level of transparency and accountability in the state’s criminal justice system; it will arm researchers and policymakers with pertinent information to better understand the issues that are plaguing the system and yield substantive policy changes. The new changes will also strengthen the state’s efforts to provide intervention and diversion services to adults, which would have a sizable effect on the overall number of people incarcerated and recidivism rates.
 Bill Analysis: Accessed on 03/29/18 http://www.flsenate.gov/Session/Bill/2018/1552/Analyses/2018s01552.ap.PDF
 Bill analysis: Accessed on 03/29/18
 Bill Analysis: Accessed on 03/29/18