Reggie Garcia: Florida inmates should explore their early release options

With state prison and criminal justice reforms in the news, state inmates, their families and supporters, lawyers, and other advocates should be aware of early-release options and strategies. Florida has nearly 101,000 inmates in 56 major state prisons and numerous annexes and work camps.

A clemency commutation of sentence and parole are alternate paths to the same goal, which is to release the inmate early. Both involve compassion, redemption, and forgiveness, and are the ultimate grant of a second chance. To get either, you must convince elected or appointed officials that the inmate will never commit another serious crime. However, clemency and parole involve different decision-makers, rules and time frames.

Executive clemency is the governor’s power under the Florida Constitution to grant mercy. If the governor says yes, two members of the Florida Cabinet must also agree. The Florida Cabinet has three members who are elected statewide: Attorney general, chief financial officer and the commissioner of agriculture. The governor and Cabinet serve as the Board of Executive Clemency. If the governor says no, the application is denied, which can happen at any time for any reason. Since 1980, there have been 148 prison clemency commutations approved by seven governors.

Parole is an act of grace by the state. The power to grant parole is held by the Florida Commission on Offender Review (FCOR), formerly known since 1941 as the Florida Parole Commission (FPC). This granting power is derived from general law established by the Florida Legislature, which can change the eligibility criteria at any time. The commission has three appointed members who serve six-year terms.

Parole was abolished in 1983 for most crimes, and in 1995 for capital murder and sexual battery. There are fewer than 5,000 inmates eligible for parole.

Community work release is separate from clemency or parole and presents the best opportunity to leave prison early. Community work release refers to the portion of the community release program that allows inmates to work at paid employment in the community while continuing as inmates of the facility where they are required to be confined. It is commonly referred to as “work release,” and it is the key transition and re-entry component of the broader community release program. The five policy goals of work release include:

–Gradual reintegration back into the community.

–Gainful employment.

–Accumulation of savings from paid employment.

–Preservation of family and community ties.

–Participation in self-help programs.

While clemency, parole and work release get more media attention and generate the most legal questions, there is another way to leave prison early: Conditional Medical Release. The Florida Commission on Offender Review has the exclusive power to release a very sick inmate early. An inmate is eligible for consideration for release under the conditional medical release program when the inmate is determined by the department to be either permanently incapacitated or terminally ill.

No inmate has a right to conditional medical release or to a medical evaluation to determine eligibility for such release. Inmates sentenced to death are not eligible. Since 1996, there have been only 204 inmates approved for conditional medical release.

With the regular legislative session concluded, it is a great time to discuss these issues with state senators and representatives in their districts.

Reggie Garcia, an AV-rated lawyer and author of How to Leave Prison Early. Column courtesy of Context Florida.


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