Criminal justice reform task force and other reform bills advance in Florida Senate – Florida Politics

Criminal justice reform task force and other reform bills advance in Florida Senate

A raft of bills that would reform Florida’s criminal justice system sponsored by St. Petersburg Republican Jeff Brandes were approved by the Senate Criminal Justice Committee Monday.

That included legislation that would create a criminal justice task force (SB 458) consisting of 27 members that would take a “holistic” review of the state’s criminal justice system, including (but not limited to) sentencing practices, minimum mandatory requirements in statute, prison and jail facilities and criminal penalties in statute. The task force would deliver a report on the first day of the 2018 legislative session.

“The goal is to bring the parties together in the interim between session and try to find using data based solutions, a pathway forward for comprehensive reform,” said Brandes.

The 27 member force would come from those representing the Florida House, Senate, the Governor’s offices and various state agencies, as well as from a victim’s advocacy group, the formerly incarcerated, and the faith community.

In talking about the need for such reform, Fleming Island Republican Rob Bradley invoked the memory of Darren Rainey, the mentally ill inmate who died at Dade Correctional Institution in 2012 after he was thrown into a steaming shower.

“I don’t know what it takes to wake everybody up to know that we’ve got a problem, but we have a problem, and to fix the problem, you’ve gotta recognize that there’s a problem,” Bradley told his colleagues, asking if conservative states like Texas can enact such criminal justice reform, Florida surely can as well.

Three other Brandes backed bills addressing criminal justice were also passed by the committee.

Including among them was SB 448,  which would give the discretion to law enforcement agencies to implement pre-arrest diversion programs for certain offenders.

A critic of the bill named Ralph Wilson  said that the language of that legislation was derived from the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC), the controversial organization that creates model conservative legislation that is adopted by state legislators around the country. Wilson claimed that when compared with  ALEC’s “model legislation” on pre-arrest diversion.  He claimed that three of the five sections of the  bill was more than 97% identical to the ALEC bill.

Brandes rejected the claim, as did Barney Bishop with the Florida Smart Justice Alliance, who said that his organization actually shopped it over to ALEC.

Ocala Senator Dennis Baxley said that he previously had opposed the bill, but was coming around on it, and said he was impressed that ALEC was supporting it as well.

The committee also passed  SB 450 involving public records. The bill would require that a civil citation, documentation of a rearrest diversion program and any other reports or documents held by a law enforcement agency are exempt from public records requirements.

And they passed SB 790 which is related to probation and community control.



Mitch Perry has been a reporter with Extensive Enterprises since November of 2014. Previously, he served five years as political editor of the alternative newsweekly Creative Loafing. Mitch also was assistant news director with WMNF 88.5 FM in Tampa from 2000-2009, and currently hosts MidPoint, a weekly talk show, on WMNF on Thursday afternoons. He began his reporting career at KPFA radio in Berkeley and is a San Francisco native who has lived in Tampa since 2000. Mitch can be reached at

1 Comment

  1. Erasing 111 Years Of History: The Preservation of the Dozier White House Building

    First I would like to thank all that were involved in the Dozier School case. I know how busy you are so I will keep this short and to the point. I remember what Minority Leader Arthenia Joyner said about Dozier: “We can’t go back and change the sins of the past but we can set a reminder so that this never happens again.” The reminder is the White House punishment room and its preservation for the future.

    At the Task Force meeting Mr. Stephen Britt a retired Florida Highway Patrol State Trooper, said he was very much against tearing the White House punishment room down. He went on to say “If that building is torn down then this will be forgotten.” NAACP Vice President Dale Landry agreed, as did others. To tear down the White House punishment room would be to erase history.

    Author Maria Tumarkin coined the phrase Traumascapes: Quote: “In the world we inhabit, traumascapes are everywhere. They are the physical sites of terror attacks, natural and industrial catastrophes, genocide, exile, ecological degradation, and communal loss of heart. Yet far from being mere backdrops to cataclysms, traumascapes are a distinctive category of place, transformed physically and psychically by suffering.”and “Traumascapes hold the key to our ability to endure and find meaning in modern day tragedies and the legacies they leave behind.”

    “In a time when terror and tragedy flourish these locations exhibit a compelling power, drawing pilgrims and tourists from around the world who want to understand the meaning of the traumatic events that unfolded there. In traumascapes, life goes on but the past is still unfinished business.”

    The Dozier punishment building fits her description, a place where thousands of boys 7-17 were tortured by flogging from 1900 to 1968.
    Permission & Source: Traumascapes: Maria Tumarkin on Amazon.

    Think of what the State of Florida and USF have invested. We have a moment in history to do something that will be remembered for unknown decades and stand as a warning to future generations that decades may pass, but justice will prevail. The Florida Cabinet did what no other administration had the guts to do. Eight+ years in the press and read by 1.18 billion people, this conclusion should be lifted up as high as our hopes for the most helpless of victims to come; our wayward children. No boy or girl is beyond hope. The lesson to be learned is that harsh treatment will not reform, beatings only culminate in instilling anger and rage. A few words of encouragement, small acts of kindness instead of indifference, a pat on the back instead of a slap, instilling trust and becoming a friend to a youngster, can accomplish wonders. There is power in this story and the people who viewed it want justice and dignity in the end.

    The building could be moved or given one acre on Dozier land where it sits, cut off from sight by planting foliage. The land should be returned to the citizenry, the young people deserve a second chance as they are innocent. A story this big needs a grand ending. To let this story close with destroying the WhiteHouse would be an act of weakness instead of a strong and enduring statement that would bring change to Florida’s negative image of sweeping things under the rug. The Florida Cabinet stopped that condemnation once and for all and millions want to see the ending. So let us set an example to the rest of the United States and those in other countries, leave this reminder so others may learn to do the same.

    It’s our obligation to learn our history and live the lessons of our past so that we can take steps toward a better future…. Jack Levine, 4Generations Institute and witness to abuse at Dozier

    R. Straley

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