Senate Criminal Justice Committee approves ‘Smart Justice’ legislation

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Florida’s Smart Justice legislative package won unanimous approval today from the Senate Criminal Justice Committee, after members amended the bill to make it similar to a version advancing in the House. Senate Bill 1032 will expand in-prison and community-based behavioral health care treatment services for non-violent 3rd degree felons who don’t traffic or sell narcotics; help ensure that Florida-born inmates leave prison with an ID card or the information needed to secure one; and encourage the Department of Corrections to increase faith- and character-based services to inmates.

“By serving as the bill’s sponsor, Sen. Thad Altman is showing outstanding leadership on an important issue that affects every community and every Floridian,” said Barney Bishop, president & CEO of the Florida Smart Justice Alliance, which helped craft the legislation. “The ‘lock ‘em up and throw away the key’ approach of the past has turned Florida’s prison gates into a revolving door, and this legislation will do a great deal to break the cycle of recidivism.” 

Department of Corrections statistics show that 43 percent of inmates entering the prison system each year are reoffenders, yet fewer than one-fourth of released inmates received substance abuse or mental health counseling that could have helped them live law-abiding lives after their release. By working to break this pattern, the Smart Justice legislation will reduce recidivism, enhance public safety and save tax dollars. It does not alter the requirement that prisoners serve at least 85 percent of their sentences before being eligible for release.

Of the 100,000 inmates in Florida prisons, 40,000 are non-violent drug abusers who cost taxpayers more than $700 million each year. According to DOC statistics, private sector community-based drug treatment has a recidivism rate of 18 percent, nearly half of the DOC recidivism rate. These compelling statistics are at the heart of Smart Justice, which is committed to finding ways to spend tax dollars more intelligently in order to produce the outcomes taxpayers expect.

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.