New Bill Would Allow Prison Sentence Reduction Through Rehabilitation

October 21, 2021 Criminal Defense, News & Announcements

A new bill, SB 504 (2022), filed for the second time by Republication Senate Senator Keith Perry, would allow prison inmates to reduce the length of their sentence through rehabilitation. Senator Perry combined forces with Democratic Representative, Dianne Hart, on the bill for rehabilitation credits in addition to gain-time. “Gain-time” refers to the sentence reduction an inmate would receive off of a sentence for good behavior, participation in beneficial programs, or another reason deemed acceptable by the Department of Correction.

The Prior Bill – HB 171 Criminal Rehabilitation

The prior bill mandated that a prisoner must serve at least sixty percent of their sentence before becoming eligible for sentence reduction through the bill. It sought to amend Section 921.002 of the Florida Statutes, revising the legislative intent of the Criminal Punishment Code to reduce the minimum sentence that must be served by an inmate from eighty-five percent of the sentence to sixty-five percent of the sentence. The prior bill also sought to amend Section 944.275 of the Florida Statutes in order to revise provisions regarding gain-time, good behavior time, and rehabilitation credits. The bill attempted to provide requirements for such gain-time and credits, provide for amounts to be awarded, and revise the time limits on the award of gain time and the credits.

The heart of the bill came in the recognition that the dual purposes of sentencing in the criminal justice system are to punish the offender but, more importantly, to rehabilitate the offender so that they can smoothly transition back into the community and avoid recidivism.

Hart stated, in regard to the bill:

“Florida’s criminal justice system is in need of major overhaul, the evidence of this was seen recently with the closing of three correctional facilities due to understaffing issues in the agency,” “[t]hese bills, if made law, will save the state money that can be used to not only improve the quality of life for those housed in our facilities, but help us to retain staff.”

Unfortunately, the bill went nowhere in the House, and the Senate bill died in committee.

The New Bill – SB 504

This new bill proposes that inmates would have to serve at least seventy-five percent of their sentence before becoming eligible for sentence reduction through rehabilitation, meeting in the middle of the prior bill and current legislation on the matter.

The new bill sought again to amend Section 921.002 of the Florida Statutes and provisions of the Criminal Punishment Code as it relates to punishment and rehabilitation. It would also amend Section 944.275 of the Florida Statutes in allowing the Department of Corrections to grant deduction from sentences in the form of good behavior time, rehabilitation credits, and outstanding deed wards, rather than just for gain-time, as the current law dictates. It would also seek to revise an inmate’s “tentative release date” so that the Department of Correction must calculate for each inmate based on their rehabilitation credits, good behavior time, outstanding deed awards, and other credits. Furthermore, the bill seeks to require the Department of Corrections to grant good behavior time, rather than just gain-time, in order to encourage inmates to grow as individuals and develop character traits that would aid in effective rehabilitation and successful reentry into the community.

The bill contains the same heartfelt provision as the former – emphasizing the importance of rehabilitation in the criminal justice system.

Reception to the Bills

The prior bill received harsh criticism from members of law enforcement. Hart also commented on Perry’s bill, since she filed another bill of her own, and just found out about Perry’s new bill when it was filed. She stated:

“It’s strange because I just talked to somebody yesterday that said, ‘Would you accept 75 as opposed to 65?’ But without me even knowing that. And I’ve already put in a call to him to have a meeting with him so that we could try to line the bills up in hopes we will maybe get something.”

Perry, like Hart, seeks to change the goal of prisons. He wants to focus more on rehabilitation than punishment and allow many inmates – but not sex offenders – to earn sentence reductions for college degrees, GEDs, vocational certificates, drug programs, and other beneficial programs that would reduce the risk of recidivism upon reentry.

The new bill was filed on October 14, 2021, in the Senate. Hopefully, with the indication of bipartisan support as shown by the teaming up of a Republican Senator and a Democratic Representative, this new bill can gain traction and make real changes in Florida’s criminal justice system.

Contact an experienced criminal defense attorney to determine if this might be a viable option for you or your loved one’s case. 

This article was written by Gabi D’Esposito

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