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Jeff Brandes turns attention to criminal justice reform

It’s been overlooked for years, but criminal justice reform could be coming down the pike.

Sen. Jeff Brandes said he hopes to make reforming the system a top priority, but told the Florida Association of Professional Lobbyists it could take years before reforms are achieved.

Calls for reform aren’t new, but they are growing louder. In March, former Attorney General Bob Butterworth and Judge Simone Marstiller penned an op-ed to outline the need for reforms. Calls for change have come from Florida TaxWatch and the ACLU of Florida. And several other states across the nation are already taking steps to transform the system.

But the process is slow going. The Florida Legislature shot down an attempt to give the Department of Corrections an additional 734 jobs, which the agency said would make Florida’s prisons more secure. The additional positions would have allowed corrections workers to work eight-hour shifts, instead of 12-hour shifts.

“Our prisons are run at a skeleton crew. Guards are on 12 hour shifts, (they’re) tired, they’re angry … and what you don’t want is a (guard to be) tired, angry and watching 140 prisoners,” said Brandes. “I think we have a crisis in our prisons.”

Brandes said while his constituents aren’t clamoring for criminal justice reform, it is an issue that needs to be addressed. He plans to do that over the next few years, spending this year gathering data so lawmakers can better understand the issues at hand. He also plans to introduce a bill to create a task force to study the issue.

In 2018, Brandes said he hopes to run multiple bills to address the state’s prison system.

“I think we can get our arms around it,” said Brandes. “We can’t do it in committee, we’ve seen what happens in the committee process. This is a multi-year process.”

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