Should Florida Bring Back Parole?

September 12, 2023 Criminal Defense

Over the years, various advocates of criminal justice reform have voiced their opinion on reinstating parole in Florida.

A recent 2022 study—notably from “right-of-center” criminal justice reform organization Right on Crime—claimed that parole should be brought back to the state. This study concluded that a gradual reinstatement of parole could improve public safety and save money for taxpayers.

While addressing that parole is not a “one size fits all” method, the study suggests methods for allowing parole that vary depending upon the severity of the original offense. For instance, it claimed that those who were convicted of non-violent crimes should be eligible for parole after at least serving 60% of their sentence. People convicted of violent or sexual offenses, on the other hand, would only be eligible for parole after serving 85% of their sentence. 

Although the state’s parole options are currently limited, this page will provide information on parole vs probation, and the different outlooks on potentially reinstating parole in Florida.

Parole v. Probation

It’s important to know the differences between parole and probation if you live in the state of Florida.

Parole is defined by the National Institute of Corrections as the release of an inmate prior to the termination of their court-appointed sentence with a period of supervision. In other words, it occurs when an inmate is granted restricted release before their entire sentence is complete.

Probation is defined under Florida law as a form of community supervision requiring specified contact with a probation officer, along with other terms and conditions. Aside from the standard version of probation, Florida also has Drug Offender probation, Sex Offender probation, Administrative probation, and community control.

If you were recently convicted of a crime in Florida, you will not be eligible for parole. That’s because the State abolished parole in 1983 for offenders who were sentenced after October 1, 1983.

Read our blog post Parole v. Probation in Florida to find the similarities between the past and present forms of release.

Florida’s Current Methods of Releasing Inmates

Currently, the Florida Department of Corrections (FDOC) only has four methods of release for incarcerated persons:

  1. Conditional release – Requires mandatory supervision for those convicted of certain violent crimes, those who have committed a prior felony offense, or those classified as a “habitual offender.”
  2. Conditional medical release – Provides discretionary release for inmates FDOC considers terminally ill or permanently incapacitated.
  3. Addiction recovery supervision – Provided for offenders with a history of substance abuse.
  4. Controlled release – Used by FDOC to maintain a prison population between 99% and 100% of its capacity.

Two Strikes Law

In 1997 Florida introduced the Prison Release Reoffender Law, commonly referred to as the “Two Strikes law,” which amended the previous Three Strikes law to be even more strict. The law applies to certain offenders who commit another crime within three years of their release. The law essentially removes judge’s discretion from the sentencing decision and instead allows the prosecutor to determine whether they want to seek the maximum sentence—which can result in life in prison without parole.

Florida legislators and prosecutors in favor of the Two-Strikes law claim that sentencing certain inmates to life in prison without parole helps to combat crime in the State. Inmates who are serving life due to the Two-Strikes law include offenders of violent crimes, such as murder or sexual battery. However, there are also examples of inmates being sentenced to life without parole through the Two-Strikes law for non-violent crimes. Take, for example, the case of Mark Jones, whose story was recently shown in the documentary Two Strikes.

Right on Crime’s 2022 Study

There are several reasons why parole is still used in the majority of the U.S. For one, it provides inmates with reason to rehabilitate due to the possibility of early release. Since parole is not a “straight release,” it can still be seen as a method to maintain public safety. Those released on parole are given a “step-back” approach for rejoining society.

In addition to rehabilitation and public safety, parole also helps cut costs for prisons. According to the Florida Department of Correction’s (FDOC) annual report from 2021-2022, the daily average cost for housing an inmate was $76.83 per day. On the other hand, the cost for individuals on community supervision ranges from $7.18 if there is no electronic monitoring, or $11.69 with electronic monitoring.

Community supervision not only provides additional benefits beyond cost reductions for the FDOC. It also grants individuals the ability to work with probation and parole officers to connect with service providers who can assist convicted individuals in their efforts to rejoin the community.

Right on Time’s study addresses how there is no current supervision for released inmates unless it is authorized by a judge, stating:

“Most inmates [upon release] are given $50 and a bus ticket; although there is an effort to help provide official identification, it is not required. Supervising offenders post-release helps keep communities safe. Parole provides not only the requirement of ‘checking in’ but also resources for housing, employment, and other aspects of reentering society.”

Here are some of the key points from the study:

  • Florida is 1 out of 16 states currently without a parole system;
  • Florida’s structure for gain time places the state as a minority for requiring offenders of non-violent crimes to serve the same percentage of time as those convicted of violent crimes;
  • Parole provides an incentive for inmates to rehabilitate, which may reduce future criminal offenses; and
  • Reinstatement of parole should be approached gradually, possibly starting with only non-violent offenses.

To read the entire report by Right on Crime, you can do so here.

Opposition to Parole

Opposition for reinstating parole remains among organizations such as the Florida Sheriff’s Association, who claimed in their 2019 study that the current Florida laws have reduced crime.

Yet, based on the FDOC’s annual report from 2020-2021, there is a concern over the growing elderly population in prison, along with the cost to house and treat them for related health issues. The population of elderly inmates in Florida prisons increased from 26.8% to 28.2%. Further, the aging population in prison is expected to increase “at a rapid pace” over the next decade. Instead of requesting larger budgets for housing inmates, funds could instead go towards parole initiatives to incentivize inmates to rehabilitate and be granted supervised release.

To get a sense of the current state of affairs, it is useful to look at FDOC’s data on inmates released from Florida prison from July 1, 2020, to June 30, 2021:

  • 26,420 total inmates released, which was a 11.9% decrease from the previous annual report;
  • 16,079 of the released inmates, or 60.9% were released due to expired sentences;
  • 4,713 of the released inmates, or 17.8% were released through conditional release supervision for more serious offenders;
  • 4,217 of the released inmates, or 16% were released to probation or community control;
  • 12,231 of the released inmates were White, followed by 11,073 released Black inmates, then followed by 3,012 released Hispanic inmates; and
  • 10,112 of the released inmates were between the ages of 35-49, whereas 8,420 inmates were released between the ages of 25-34.

Right on Time’s study compared Florida to Texas, Tennessee, Louisiana, and Oklahoma—all states with similar approaches to law and criminal justice. For instance, the state of Texas offers parole to certain inmates who have already served 15 years, or 25% of their sentence.

The following is a statement from the study:

“As Floridians, we should demand more for our public safety. Parole has far too many benefits, and Florida’s criminal justice system has far too many problems for policymakers to keep ignoring this potentially valuable tool.”

The study’s author concludes by acknowledging that parole is not “waving a magic wand,” and that there are a lot of things that must happen to make it successful in the state of Florida.

In Need of Criminal Defense? Contact Pumphrey Law

Despite Florida’s elimination of parole for inmates convicted within recent decades, new research continues to be released that shows the benefits of using such releasing methods. Prisons can save money on housing costs, and inmates would potentially be more likely to rehabilitate and focus on turning their life around if they were offered parole. It is important to remember that people in jail or prison are still people, and that the reality of Florida prisons can be scary.

Don Pumphrey and his team at Pumphrey Law Firm are experienced in representing Floridians in need of defense. If you hire us to take on your case, we will provide you with support and guidance throughout the entire process. We understand how stressful this experience can be, and our goal is to help you fight the charges against you. For a free case consultation, contact our office at (850) 681-7777 or leave a message on our website.

Written by Karissa Key

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