TAMPA, Fla. (WFLA) — Rep. Dianne Hart (D-Hillsborough) filed a bill ahead of the 2023 legislative session to help convicted Floridians transition back to their communities and reduce the time that must be served before parole is an option.
The legislation, House Bill 115: Criminal Rehabilitation, would amend state statutes to adjust Florida’s Criminal Punishment Code. Specifically, the bill text says it would amend state law to redefine legal texts focused on the purpose of the criminal justice system.
As of November 2022, there were 82,892 inmates in Florida’s prison population, according to the Florida Department of Corrections’ monthly statistics. An additional 140,287 were on probation, and nearly 5,500 were on post-prison supervision.
Of that population, 662 inmates reentered state custody via probation violations, while 85 were out of prison and not on probation but still returned. Reasons for reentry include both new crimes and what the state calls technical revocations.
Representative Hart’s proposed legislation has the potential to impact nearly all of those individuals, when it comes to how much time they’ll spend in prison.
Current law reads that the Legislature uses its authority and responsibility, when making criminal penalties and sentences, “to make the best use of state prisons so that violent criminal offenders are appropriately incarcerated.”
Hart’s proposed legislation changes the defined purpose in this section, and if passed, would make it so the Legislature’s responsibility is “to make the best use of state prisons so that criminal offenders are appropriately punished and rehabilitated.”
To accomplish this, the bill text includes provisions to redefine what it calls the “primary purpose of sentencing is to punish the offender,” changing it to “the dual purposes of sentencing in the criminal justice system are to punish the offender and rehabilitate the offender,” and including in order to help them reenter their communities after time served.
As written, there would be an option to shorten time served as a result of “outstanding deed, gain-time, good behavior time, and rehabilitation credits.” Currently, time served can be shortened only by application of “incentive and meritorious gain-time.”
Should the law pass, defendants would be able to serve less than 65% of their term, rather than the current 85%, should they earn those credits in an effort to rehabilitate. Credits would be applied to a tentative release date based on maximum sentence expiration, though the credits can also be forfeited to extend release time as well.
The new rehabilitation system would be developed “as a means of encouraging satisfactory behavior and developing character traits necessary for successful reentry” and FDC would grant good behavior time at a rate of 10 days for each month of a sentence, should the credits be earned.
Good behavior time in a partial month “shall be prorated” on the basis of a 30-day period, according to the proposed bill. If an inmate “works diligently, participates in training or education, uses time constructively, or otherwise engages in positive activities, the department may grant rehabilitation credits” toward their eligibility for the credits.
Inmates also have a chance to earn 60 days of rehabilitation credit if they successfully complete a “high school equivalency diplomas, college degrees, or vocational certificates, or a drug treatment program, mental health treatment program, life skills program, behavioral modification program, reentry program, or any equivalent rehabilitative program. Additionally, the department shall grant 5 additional days of rehabilitation credits for successful completion of any other department approved-program, including inmate-developed programs, or a passing grade in each online or in-person educational course.” The bill says those credits would also be retroactive.
If a prisoner is found guilty of violating the law while in custody, good behavior time can be forfeited, following due process.