Justice Summit explores ideas for smarter, affordable public safety measures; poll shows strong support

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The chairmen of several key legislative committees today discussed Smart Justice concepts for Florida’s criminal justice system, as a new public opinion poll revealed that more than three-quarters of Floridians believe a person can support such initiatives and still be considered “tough on crime.” The developments came at the conclusion of Justice Summit 2012, a gathering of experts committed to reforms designed to enhance public safety while saving tax dollars and reducing offender recidivism.

The independent poll, conducted by Fabrizio McLaughlin & Associates, found that 73 percent of the public favors Smart Justice laws that would reduce the number of non-violent criminals in Florida prisons, a change that would save substantial tax dollars while still protecting the public from the worst criminals. More than four in five respondents favor cost-effective treatment programs to prepare non-violent criminals for their re-entry to society, greatly improving their chances of living law-abiding lives after their release.

At a press conference following adjournment of the three-day Justice Summit, a trio of key legislators – Sen. Greg Evers, chairman of the Senate Criminal Justice Committee; Rep. Dennis Baxley, chairman of the House Judiciary Committee; and Sen. Rob Bradley, chairman of the Senate Appropriations Subcommittee on Criminal & Civil Justice – said the initiatives discussed at the Summit provide a solid foundation for legislation to be considered in the upcoming legislative session.

“Scarce state revenues demand more effective solutions. With the support of law enforcement and other partners in the criminal justice system, we can produce fewer crime victims and reduce recidivism through a smarter approach for non-violent criminals,” said Barney Bishop, vice president of the Florida Smart Justice Alliance. “This Summit demonstrated that criminal justice reforms in Texas, Georgia and other states have the potential to make Florida safer in the future without becoming soft on crime. Smart Justice is just that: targeted dollars spent in a smarter way to achieve better outcomes.”

The Justice Summit brought together more than 200 experts, from policy makers and elected officials to law enforcement and service providers, with a goal of furthering Florida’s efforts to move toward a smarter, more affordable approach to criminal justice issues. Summit participants explored reforms from other states, with any eye toward pushing criminal justice reforms in Florida through evidence-based practices that will lead to a safer state. The public opinion poll findings were analyzed by Marian Johnson, one of Florida’s foremost political strategists in her role as senior vice president of political strategy for the Florida Chamber of Commerce.

“The people of Florida clearly recognize that our state needs a different approach to criminal justice, one that’s based on the belief that non-violent offenders should receive treatment to address their underlying issues so harsher punishment can be reserved for more serious criminals,” Johnson said.

Among the poll’s findings:

  • 78 percent believe a person can support Smart Justice initiatives and still be considered “tough on crime”
  • 81 percent favor cost-effective treatment programs to prepare non-violent criminals to re-enter society
  • 89 percent favor laws to establish supervised work release where the earnings would pay back victims, pay court costs or pay child support
  • 73 percent favor sentencing laws that reduce the number of non-violent criminals in Florida prisons, saving substantial tax dollars
  • 70 percent are more likely to support reforms when they are told that almost one-third of those released under current laws end up back in prison, but recidivism is substantially lower in states that have already implemented these programs
  • 60 percent reject the notion that the number of crimes will go up if the threat of prison is removed for non-violent criminals

Peter Schorsch is the President of Extensive Enterprises and is the publisher of some of Florida’s most influential new media websites, including SaintPetersBlog.com, FloridaPolitics.com, ContextFlorida.com, and Sunburn, the morning read of what’s hot in Florida politics. SaintPetersBlog has for three years running been ranked by the Washington Post as the best state-based blog in Florida. In addition to his publishing efforts, Peter is a political consultant to several of the state’s largest governmental affairs and public relations firms. Peter lives in St. Petersburg with his wife, Michelle, and their daughter, Ella.