January 30, 2020

Sentencing reform stepped forward and back in 2019

Almost everyone has heard statistics on the crisis. According to the American Bar Association, almost one in four people behind bars on Earth are in American prisons. The United States imprisons one in three of all the imprisoned women in the world.

Despite modest changes in late 2018, calls continue year after year for reforms to the federal government’s way of sentencing people found guilty of crimes.

Meanwhile, many states try out ideas, often with the hope that the federal government will someday adopt them. These efforts are spotty, checkered and sometimes wind up undermining reform instead. The online advocacy journalism site The Appeal surveyed state efforts at criminal justice reform in 2019.

Florida voters almost got the rights they approved

Many Americans convicted of a felony lose their right to vote, sometimes permanently. Some people believe this makes them outsiders to what America is all about, hindering their chances for rehabilitation.

We joined at least 13 other states in taking major strides toward ending the disenfranchisement of people convicted of felonies.

In the 2018 elections, Floridians approved Amendment 4, which restored the voting rights of many with felony convictions once they completed their sentences. But legislation passed along party lines threw up roadblocks to granting the voters’ wishes. The conflict is ongoing.

Florida ends automatic “adult filing” of young suspects

In 2019, we took a big first step in reforming our state’s treatment of young people arrested for crimes. Thanks to House Bill 7125, judges no longer must automatically pass juveniles into adult court.

The Appeal places us among 14 states that no longer require prosecution as an adult of anyone under 18 years old. According to the publication, three states (Wisconsin, Texas and Georgia) prosecute all 17-year-old suspects as adults.

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