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Florida lawmakers hopeful 2022 brings major criminal justice reform

'We know that we can work together,' Rep. Dianne Hart says
Posted at 5:48 PM, Jul 14, 2021
and last updated 2021-07-14 17:48:50-04

TALLAHASSEE, Fla. — Could 2022 be the year for major criminal justice reform? Some Florida lawmakers think so.

Members of the Florida Legislative Black Caucus are again planning to offer bills to trim sentences and save Florida millions.

State Rep. Dianne Hart, D-Tampa, said she'll again offer a gain-time policy. Through good behavior and rehab courses, qualified inmates could earn early release after completing 65% of a sentence instead of the mandatory 85%.

Previous analysis of the bill shows it could save the state between $500 to $800 million over five years. Hart said the dollars would be invested back into Florida's corrections program.

Proposed Florida criminal reform bill could save Florida $500 to $800 million over five years
A proposed Florida criminal reform bill could save Florida about $500 to $800 million over five years

"We need our buildings worked on. They're all falling apart," Hart said. "All of the dollars that we can save will go right back into our facilities and into making life better for those who are incarcerated."

Former felon turned prison reform advocate Greg James applauded the idea. The Tallahassee pastor said he's seen first-hand what kind of good the legislation could bring inside correctional facilities.

"Going from 85% to 65% would change a climate inside of any prison in the state of Florida," James said. "Why? Because men now have a sense of hope."

State Rep. Dianne Hart
State Rep. Dianne Hart plans to introduce a justice reform bill next legislative session.

Hart has run the bill for several years without success but said she was hopeful for 2022.

Her optimism is getting fuel after a similar bill by Sen. Keith Perry, R-Gainesville, received support in the upper chamber, passing through two committees in the last session. Lawmakers also approved bipartisan police reform, which Hart felt could act as a launchpad for further cooperation.

"We know that we can work together," Hart said. "There is no question that we all have some issues in our districts on criminal justice reform."

This gain-time bill, she said, is one of several Floridians could expect to see surface next year. Others include the creation of a new parole system and an oversight committee for correctional facilities.

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