– Florida could save significant corrections costs by reducing prison sentences for nonviolent offenders, according to data analysis in a new report from Florida TaxWatch. The report, Overcriminalization In Florida
, calls for the state to review options to reduce the prison population through downgrading offenses and implementing alternatives to incarceration for nonviolent, level one and two offenders.
“Florida’s criminal justice system can do more to improve public safety beyond locking up all offenders,” said Dominic M. Calabro, President and CEO of Florida TaxWatch, the independent, nonpartisan, nonprofit public policy research institute and government watchdog. “Nearly half of Florida’s new prison admissions are nonviolent offenders charged with third-degree felonies, the lowest offense on the felony severity chart. Florida would be safer by rehabilitating these offenders without having them spend time in costly prisons, or crime colleges, where they are detained with dangerous, violent criminals.”
The report calls for a review of third-degree felony offenses to determine if Florida is overcriminalizing certain low-level offenses. The report suggests that some third-degree felonies could be downgraded to misdemeanors, which still result in significant punishments for offenders while reducing taxpayer burden.
“The punishment should fit the crime and the cost,” said Dan McCarthy, Director of the TaxWatch Center for Smart Justice. “Florida could save millions of dollars and improve public safety by reducing our nonviolent prison population through alternative adjudication.”
Florida’s prison population has increased by more than 400 percent in the last 35 years, though the state population has grown by slightly more than 100 percent. Currently the state has 1.5 million felons, but the state’s crime rate is at its lowest point in more than 40 years.
“As the state’s crime rate continues to fall and prison population rises, policymakers should work to implement sentencing reform that reflects this change,” added McCarthy.