A legislative bill aimed at helping rehabilitate Florida convicts and reduce their requisite time before parole eligibility has been proposed by Rep. Dianne Hart (D-Hillsborough) in anticipation of the 2023 legislative session.
House Bill 115, titled "Criminal Rehabilitation," intends to revise state regulations to modify Florida's Criminal Punishment Code. The bill's text specifically proposes changes to state legislation to reshape the definitions within the criminal justice system's legal framework.
Data from the Florida Department of Corrections' monthly statistics revealed a prison population of 82,892 individuals in Florida as of November 2022. There were another 140,287 on probation, while close to 5,500 were undergoing post-prison supervision.
Among these individuals, 662 inmates re-incarcerated due to probation infringements, while 85 were neither on probation nor in prison but returned nonetheless. The reasons for re-incarceration spanned new criminal activities and what the state terms as technical revocations.
The proposed bill from Representative Hart stands to affect almost all of these people in terms of the duration they are expected to spend in prison.
The present legislation suggests that the Legislature, in the establishment of criminal penalties and sentences, utilizes its power and duty "to make the best use of state prisons so that violent criminal offenders are appropriately incarcerated."
The bill proposed by Hart seeks to alter the meaning of this segment. If accepted, it will redirect the Legislature's duty to "make the best use of state prisons so that criminal offenders are appropriately punished and rehabilitated."
To achieve this, the bill contains provisions to redefine the "primary purpose of sentencing is to punish the offender." This would change to "the dual purposes of sentencing in the criminal justice system are to punish the offender and rehabilitate the offender," with the goal of facilitating their reintegration into society after serving their sentences.
The drafted legislation indicates the possibility of reducing the sentence time due to "outstanding deed, gain-time, good behavior time, and rehabilitation credits." In contrast, under existing laws, sentence reduction is only possible through the application of "incentive and meritorious gain-time."
If enacted, the law would enable defendants to serve less than 65% of their term, down from the present 85%, should they earn these credits through rehabilitation. These credits would be accounted for in determining a tentative release date based on maximum sentence expiration, although the credits can also be withdrawn to delay release.
The proposed rehabilitation system would be instituted "as a means of encouraging satisfactory behavior and developing character traits necessary for successful reentry," with the FDC granting good behavior time at a rate of 10 days for each month of a sentence, should the credits be merited.
The proposed legislation stipulates that good behavior time in a partial month "shall be prorated" based on a 30-day period. In the event of an inmate "working diligently, participating in training or education, using time constructively, or engaging in other positive activities, the department may grant rehabilitation credits" towards their eligibility for the credits.
The bill further affords inmates the opportunity to earn an additional 60 days of rehabilitation credit upon successful completion of programs like "high school equivalency diplomas, college degrees, vocational certificates, drug treatment programs, mental health treatment programs, life skills programs, behavioral modification programs, reentry programs, or any equivalent rehabilitative program." It also allows for the granting of 5 extra days of rehabilitation credits for successful completion of any other department-approved programs, including inmate-developed programs, or a passing grade in each online or in-person educational course." The credits earned in this way would also be retroactive.
The legislation stipulates that an inmate found guilty of breaking the law while in custody may lose their good behavior time, subject to due process.