Florida growing friendlier to criminal-justice reform, poll indicates

Floridians may be rethinking their throw-the-book-at-’em approach to crime, a poll released Monday suggests.

The survey by The James Madison Institute and the Charles Koch Institute found that 72 percent of Floridians agreed or strongly agreed it is important to reform criminal justice.

Seventy-five percent agreed or strongly agreed the prison population costs the country too much money.

And almost two-thirds believed there were too many nonviolent offenders behind bars.

“The poll solidified what we’ve come to know — Floridians want criminal justice reform,” said Sal Nuzzo, vice president of policy at JMI.

“Policymakers should take serious strides toward improving the outcomes of those within the criminal justice system, increasing public safety and continuing to be good stewards of taxpayer dollars,” he said.

The survey comes amid increased attention to Florida’s approach to crime. Organizations including Florida TaxWatch and the ACLU of Florida have called for reform, and state Sen. Jeff Brandes wants to make reform a top priority.

Still, the Legislature refused to add 734 jobs to make the Department of Corrections more secure. The new positions would have allowed prison staff to work eight-hour instead of 12-hour shifts.

Meanwhile, violence has been on the rise within the prison system. On Sept. 8, hundreds of inmates created a major disturbance at a Holmes County prison. This followed an incident in June in which 300 inmates smashed up two dormitories at Franklin Correctional Institution; that was the third disturbance there this year.

Survey Sampling International conducted the poll of 1,488 Florida residents in English and Spanish in July through an opt-in, web-based panel. The margin of error was pegged at plus or minus three percentage points.

Detailed findings here.

In other results, 72 percent of Floridians said people convicted of felonies should be allowed to secure licenses to work following their release.

And 74 percent said prisons should focus more on rehabilitation than punishment.

Regarding juvenile offenders, 70 percent stated they should be separated from adults behind bars. By a 47-point margin, the poll’s respondents trusted judges rather than prosecutors to decide whether to charge juveniles as adults.

Florida has held back while other states pursued criminal justice reform, said Vikrant Reddy, a senior research fellow for Koch.

“But recent changes to mandatory minimum sentencing, improved civil asset forfeiture practices, and a renewed focus on mental health treatment demonstrate that things are changing in the Sunshine State,” Reddy said.

“Florida’s leaders should continue this momentum, listen to their constituents, and keep working toward enacting criminal justice reforms.”

Staff Reports


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