Does Florida Need Prison Reform Legislation?
Last January, Florida lawmakers got a warning that the state’s prison system was facing a crisis. Florida Department of Corrections Secretary Mark Inch said the system was suffering from low salaries and mandatory 12-hour shifts, while gang violence and poor working conditions were exacerbating these problems.
That was still a month before the coronavirus pandemic created a more devastating situation in Florida’s prisons, with the number of inmates testing positive for COVID-19 soaring as the virus spread throughout these confined spaces.
But despite that, the Florida Legislature completed its session on March 13 without taking action on legislation to reduce prison sentences for nonviolent offenders and to address other problems within the state’s broken prison system.
If you have a loved one in Florida’s prison system and are worried about their health, now is the time to reach out to an experienced criminal defense attorney to work on their behalf. If you’re facing criminal charges that could potentially lead to incarceration, it’s just as important to be working with an attorney who can build a strong defense for you.
Why is Florida’s Prison System Facing a Crisis?
Last January, numerous state prison wardens joined Inch in urging state senators to address the desperate conditions within the system by increasing funding for correctional institutions. Inch, who was appointed by Gov. Ron DeSantis to fix Florida’s prison system, told senators that the system was understaffed, with inexperienced corrections officers facing an increasingly dangerous and hostile inmate population. As many as 70% of new inmates entering the system, Inch told the senators, arrive with a substance abuse problem.
The system had taken a hit under former Gov. Rick Scott, who cut the Department of Corrections budget by $1 billion, then changed 8-hour shifts to 12-hour shifts, which eliminated 3,700 prison jobs. Scott also attempted to privatize the state’s prison system but was defeated in the state Senate.
As this year’s legislative session began, lawmakers presented several prison reform bills, including ones that would:
- Re-examine the way courts handle drug trafficking offenses
- Reduce the minimum length of sentences from 85% to 65%
- Improve programs to help prisoners readjust to civilian life once they get released
- Reforming the treatment of prison inmates
Lawmakers must now confront the additional challenge posed by COVID-19.
How Has COVID-19 Impacted Florida’s Prisons?
With coronavirus putting a major strain on Florida prisons, criminal justice advocates like the Florida Campaign for Criminal Justice Reform have been lobbying state officials to release more people out of jails and prisons through commutation of sentences and the release of non-violent offenders.
Micah Kubic, executive director for the ACLU of Florida, said this has become a serious health crisis for Florida. He noted:
“There are roughly 96,000 people in Florida prisons right now, many of which shouldn’t be there in the first place. To avoid a major coronavirus outbreak, we need to safely reduce the prison and jail populations.”
The Coalition is also lobbying for stronger measures to stop the spread of COVID-19 in the contained environments of prisons. Carrie Boyd, policy counsel for Southern Poverty Law Center Action, said:
“The best answer to public health and humanitarian concerns is to get people out. Incarcerated people are highly vulnerable to outbreaks of contagious illnesses such as COVID-19. They are housed in close quarters and can’t practice social distancing.”
Lawmakers who support prison reform also point to a 2019 legislative study that said the state could save $860 million over five years by reducing prison terms for non-violent offenders. Depending on how severely coronavirus impacts the state prison system, lawmakers may feel more urgency to address the issue in their next legislative session.
Protect Yourself. Fight Your Criminal Charge with The Umansky Law Firm.
It’s now more important than ever to secure quality legal counsel if you’ve been charged with a misdemeanor or felony offense in Orlando. Your health and future are at stake. If you’re facing charges that could lead to time in jail or prison, don’t face this experience alone. Have an Orlando criminal defense attorney by your side who can advocate on your behalf when things go wrong and your rights get threatened.
At The Umansky Law Firm, our experience as former state prosecutors helps us to build your defense based on our own career knowledge. This gives us a unique advantage compared to other criminal defense law firms. We have attorneys with Constitutional law experience and proven case practice that works. Talk to the attorneys with The Umansky Law Firm for free about your case so you can understand the steps you need to take to protect yourself. Call our office or complete our contact form.