|FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
May 3, 2019
|CONTACT: Danielle Alvarez
Crime Survivors Help Pass Criminal Justice Reform in Florida
Criminal justice reforms, which both reduce incarceration and improve safety, were advanced in partnership with crime victims
TALLAHASSEE, Fla. – The Alliance for Safety and Justice (ASJ) and Florida crime victims applaud the Florida legislature for passing crime survivor-led criminal justice reforms in the Sunshine State.
Robert Rooks, Vice President of Alliance for Safety and Justice. “Florida lawmakers have just passed the most expansive justice reform bill in 20 years and we celebrate this turning tide. We support House leadership and Chairman Renner for the continued advancement of important safety reforms that were championed by Florida crime survivors. We look forward to our ongoing work with our elected leaders as we continue to move forward smart policies that advance safety and justice.”
Debbie Ortiz, a Crime Survivors for Safety and Justice member from Spring Hill, Florida said, “A huge thank you to Florida lawmakers for hearing the voices of survivors of crime, enacting justice reforms that improve safety and begin to shift the state towards important priorities. A very important thank you goes out to Chairman Renner, who championed our crime victim-led justice reform agenda from the onset.”
Over three hundred crime survivors from across the Sunshine State traveled to Florida’s Capitol to advocate for policy changes and continued to work with lawmakers all throughout Session.
Florida’s 2019 criminal justice reform legislative package contains many of the criminal justice reform policies that were part of crime victims’ agenda, changes which stop cycles of crime and make communities safer. These include improving the probation system by expanding the use of non-prison responses to technical violations of probation rules, reducing barriers to work for Floridians with a past conviction, and removing barriers for crime victims to access victim compensation.
WHAT DOES THE BILL DO?
Improving Probation & Modernizing Policies
Thousands of Floridians are incarcerated, not because they have committed a new offense, but because of a technical violation of probation (missing a class or meeting, not reporting a change in employment, or change in address). This legislation would encourage a more effective approach proven to better hold people accountable and ensure they successfully re-enter society: judges using graduated sanctions rather than expensive prison time for a technical violation of probation.
At least 47 other states have a higher threshold for felony theft higher than Florida’s $300 amount, including Alabama, Georgia, Mississippi and South Carolina. Florida’s threshold hasn’t changed since 1986 and fails to reflect current costs and dollar values. This legislation would modernize Florida’s threshold, ensuring people are held accountable without the excessive use of felony convictions, which carries destabilizing barriers. The new threshold would be increased to $750.
Florida’s reform package will give prosecutors more flexibility to make case-by-case decisions by removing broad requirements to charge juveniles in adult court.
Floridians living with a past conviction face over 500 legal restrictions that prevent them from contributing to their families, communities and the economy. A past conviction can restrict people from receiving state-issued occupational licenses, blocking them from employment that could help them achieve self-sufficiency and successfully re-enter society. A number of jobs require such licenses, including fields like barbering, cosmetology and construction, among many others. This legislation moves Florida closer to a system where a past conviction can no longer prevent Floridians from earning a job and achieving economic stability.
By providing pathways to earn redemption, we ensure people become contributing members of their families and communities rather than remaining in a cycle of crime. Removing obstacles for people to work can reduce recidivism and create safer communities.
Reducing Victim Compensation Barriers
Crime survivors face serious barriers to getting help after becoming a victim of crime – many get no help at all. Florida’s victim compensation program can provide important support to victims of violence and their families. Under current law, however, individuals and families face roadblocks to accessing resources from the program. By the time victims move past the immediate shock of an incident, they may have missed deadlines to access programs that can help them recover from the grief and trauma.
HB 7125 removes some of these barriers that prevent victims, as well as their children and families, from receiving the help they need. It would extend the time limits to report a crime from 72 hours to 5 days and apply for victim compensation from 1 to 3 years, respectively.
WHAT IS THE IMPACT?
Fewer People in Prison & Unnecessary Felonies
Through changes targeting how the state responds to low-level violations of probation rules, low-level property crimes, and numerous other provisions, HB 7125 will result in hundreds, if not thousands, fewer people sitting in Florida’s overburdened prison system for these low-level, non-violent crimes and rule violations.
- Last year, over 6,000 technical violators were sentenced to prison – even a modest reduction to this number would mean hundreds if not thousands fewer people in prison for technical violations of supervision.
- Last year, over 10,000 people were convicted of a low-level property crime and saddled with a felony record, thousands of whom will now face misdemeanor charges instead. Over 1,000 people were sentenced to prison for low-level property crimes, hundreds of whom would be impacted by this bill. 
- Hundreds of Floridians could be diverted from prison due to the end of mandatory direct file of youth into the adult legal system, expanded access to alternative and diversion programs, reforms to certain mandatory minimum sentences, and fewer returns to prison from improved reentry and reduced recidivism.
Better Reentry — More Jobs, Less Crime
Reintegration into the Florida economy through gainful employment is a life-stabilizing opportunity that decreases a person’s likelihood to re-offend. Multiple studies have shown that people are less likely to recidivate when they have a job.
HB 7125 eliminates barriers to employment by opening the door for the hundreds of thousands of Floridians living with a past conviction to get occupational licenses and get to work in important fields. With over 30,000 people leaving Florida prisons every year and over a million people living with a felony record, opening the doors to these important fields will yield significant economic and public safety benefits across the state.
- Over 30,000 people were released from Florida prisons last year
- There were over 130,000 felony guilty dispositions in Florida courts last year
- There are over 1.4 million people in Florida living with a past felony conviction
- Studies have found a range of recidivism-reduction benefits attributable to higher-level employment, but even a moderate reduction in recidivism (10%) would yield substantial results
Improving Access to Victim Compensation
This legislation triples the time limit for crime victims to apply for victim compensation.
- A recent survey showed that 1 in 3 Floridians had been victimized in the past 10 years
- 67% of victims described their experience as traumatic but only 16% felt supported by the criminal justice system
- Fewer than 15% reported receiving critical financial support, 40-50% reported that they wanted, but were unable to receive this assistance
- Criminal Justice Impact Conference, HB 589 – Theft Offenses, February 27, 2019,http://edr.state.fl.us/Content/conferences/criminaljusticeimpact/HB589.pdf.
- Criminal Justice Trends, Presentation to the Criminal Justice Estimating Conference (Feb 22, 2019), http://edr.state.fl.us/content/conferences/criminaljustice/trends.pdf.
- Uggen C. (1999).Ex-offenders and the conformist alternative: A job quality model of work and crime. Social Problems, 46, 127-151; Ramakers, A., Nieuwbeerta, P., Van Wilsem, J., & Dirkzwager, A. (2016). Not Just Any Job Will Do: A Study on Employment Characteristics and Recidivism Risks After Release. International journal of offender therapy and comparative criminology, 61(16), 1795–1818; Schnepel, K. (2018). Good Jobs and Recidivism. The Economic Journal, 128, 447-469.
Alliance for Safety and Justice (ASJ) is a national organization that aims to win new safety priorities in states across the country. ASJ partners with leaders and advocates to advance state reform through networking, coalition building, research, education and advocacy. For more information, visit: www.allianceforsafetyandjustice.org
Crime Survivors for Safety and Justice (CSSJ) is a national network of over 25,000 crime survivors across the country. It brings together diverse crime survivors to advance policies that help communities most harmed by crime and violence. For more information, visit: www.cssj.org