During the upcoming 2018 Florida Legislative Session, Right on Crime will serve as a resource to lawmakers on the importance of criminal justice reform, breaking down long-held, but unsupported, policy prescriptions. For example, the assumption that to decrease crime, all drug offenders should be subjected to the same mandatory minimum sentences has led to burdensome prison costs with little improvement in public safety.
As an alternative, Right on Crime will introduce and promote public safety reform measures that have seen results in other states that most Floridians want to see enacted.
Housing 102,000 inmates in 63 prisons across Florida costs taxpayers nearly $2.4 billion and the recidivism rate is a dismal 33 percent – meaning one out of every three inmates released from a Florida prison will return to a Florida prison within three years. Just as conservatives hold other government functions accountable for spending, the same cost-effectiveness requirement should apply to our criminal justice system.
There are steps Florida can take to cut crime and spending within the criminal justice landscape that have proven to save taxpayer dollars, reduce recidivism and protect public safety.
For instance, reforming mandatory minimum sentencing by instituting a judicial safety valve. Under current Florida law, judges are required to sentence all individuals convicted of certain drug crimes to the same mandatory prison term – without taking any mitigating factors into account. Meaning a first-time, low-level drug offender is subject to the same minimum prison term as a drug kingpin.
If a judicial safety valve were instituted, the court system would be given the flexibility needed to divert low-level drug offenders with substance abuse issues into drug treatment.
While some argue this puts dealers back on the streets and endangers the public, there is simply no evidence to suggest mandatory minimums have any effect on public safety. Texas, for example, has virtually no mandatory minimum sentencing guidelines in place and has a nearly identical crime rate to that of Florida.
The bottom line is a judicial safety valve is more effective and less expensive than mandatory minimum sentencing, and does not put public safety at risk.
In addition to judicial safety valve, Florida is well behind other states in reforming its laws governing the property theft threshold, which has not been changed since 1986. The state is once again using an outdated, one-size-fits-all model to criminal justice.
In this instance, someone who steals a $300 Xbox is punished in the same manner as someone who steals a $20,000 car.
Moreover, raising the property theft threshold, which 37 other states have already done, including neighboring states that have felony theft thresholds more than three times higher than Florida’s, does not result in an increase in felony theft.
Simply put, there are more effective, less expensive ways to deal with petty theft than habitual incarceration which costs taxpayers and has not proven to promote public safety.
Finally, in Florida, there is strong Republican and Democratic support for commonsense criminal justice reform and a recently released poll, funded by Right on Crime, demonstrably indicates registered voters overwhelmingly believe the primary purpose of the criminal justice system is to rehabilitate and not punish criminals.
The poll found that, despite the range of opinions voters have on the criminal justice system, both voter groups readily embrace the four proposed reforms tested:
– Roughly 3 in 4 registered voters and GOP voters support ending the practice of suspending drivers’ licenses for failure to pay court fees or fines when the person can prove an inability to pay and agrees to do community service.
– Nearly three-quarters or more of Republican and Democratic voters support encouraging counties to create civil citation programs that would allow police officers to give citations that include fines and/or community service instead of making arrests for various misdemeanors.
– Two-thirds or more of both voter groups support allowing Florida judges to cut three- and five-year mandatory minimum sentences by up to two-thirds for first-time drug offenders when they believe the mandatory sentence is inappropriate based on the crime committed.
– A solid majority of voters from both parties support raising the minimum monetary threshold that qualifies as a felony from $300 to $1,500.
The case for smart criminal justice reform is clearer today than at any time in our past, and with smart solutions already being widely discussed by Florida lawmakers on both sides of the aisle, Right on Crime is hopeful that the 2018 session will usher in laws that truly work to reduce crime, deliver justice to victims and safeguard taxpayers money.
Chelsea Murphy serves as Florida State Director for Right on Crime. Her column appears courtesy of FloridaPolitics.com.