TALLAHASSEE, Fla. - As the nation focuses on making criminal justice reform a reality, Florida continues to make strides in ensuring that Floridians who make mistakes are given a second chance to change their lives, receive a quality education and find a job. Today, Governor Rick Scott signed HB 439 into law, joining HB 1149 and HB 293, which were signed yesterday. These bills will not only save taxpayer dollars, but also slow the flow of Floridians into a cycle that has too often kept them imprisoned rather than provide them with the help they desperately need.
“Florida TaxWatch applauds the hard work of the Florida Legislature to send these good bills to the Governor’s desk and we commend the Governor for signing them. These bills will move Florida in the right direction on smart justice reform,” said Florida TaxWatch President and CEO Dominic M. Calabro. “It is time to move past the outdated policy of simply locking people up. It doesn’t work. We need to provide rehabilitation and alternative programs to offenders, particularly non-violent ones, so that they become less likely to commit crimes in the future.
“We hope that the Legislature considers additional criminal justice reforms in the 2017 Legislative Session, including continuing to expand programs that reduce recidivism and curb Florida’s aging prisoner problem,” continued Calabro. “We believe that with the dedication of our elected officials and the support of committed organizations and citizens, Florida can be a shining example for the rest of the nation on criminal justice reform.”
HB 439 will expand mental health and veterans courts as well as expand the forensic mental health diversion program created by Judge Steve Leifman. This forensic diversion program focuses on keeping people out of jail and giving them the help they need, rather than just funneling them into the system where they become more likely to resort to crime further down the road. Florida TaxWatch research has shown the benefits of alternative courts and the 2016 Government Efficiency Task Force recommended the expansion of the forensic mental health diversion program.
HB 1149 creates an alternative sanctioning program for technical violations of probation and follows TaxWatch recommendations. Alternative sanctioning is used in lieu of traditional incarceration. These alternative sanctioning programs will provide a fiscally responsible, effective, and safe approach to dealing with probation violations.
HB 293 will further protect juveniles by allowing juvenile criminal records to be exempt from publication on a public website. While these records must still be available via public records request, Florida TaxWatch believes this is a step forward and may improve future educational and employment opportunities for delinquent juveniles in Florida because their records will not permanently exist online. It is essential the state does everything it can to ensure that juveniles do not continue to offend as adults and that they have every chance to take advantage of the many opportunities for success that Florida provides.