Arrests are falling, jail sentences are shortening and lawmakers should be focused on employing people once they get out of prison.
That’s all according to Thomas G. Blomberg, dean of the Florida State University College of Criminology and Criminal Justice.
“There are four states in the country that are doing some of this, but only at sentencing,” Blomberg laid out. Those four states are Connecticut, Iowa, Oregon and New Jersey.
“What Florida’s proposing is a complete criminal justice system approach, so from arrest to sentencing through imprisonment. So this is a very unique initiative.”
Those bills have not yet begun being sent to FSU researchers just yet. Committee Chair Keith Perry said that process would being “soon.”
But Blomberg spoke Tuesday about current projections regarding the criminal justice system going forward. The analysis from university researchers covers a five-year period from 2019 to 2023.
With no changes to current law, misdemeanor arrest rates are projected to drop for black Floridians by 25 percent. White Floridians will see a 19 percent decrease.
Black Floridians are projected to see an 18 percent drop in felony arrest rates, while that number will remain mostly steady for white Floridians.
But Blomberg’s findings show racial disparities will remain. In 2018, black Floridians have a misdemeanor arrest rate of 307 per 10,000 individuals. That number was 174 per 10,000 individuals for white Floridians.
The gap was even larger for felony arrest rates, with black Floridians experiencing a rate of 380 arrests per 10,000 individuals. Whites saw a rate of 162 felony arrests per 10,000.
Disparities were also seen in jail sentence rates, though the length of those sentences is projected to continue dropping for blacks and whites.
The question going forward is how future bills will affect those numbers for Floridians of all backgrounds.
“We feel that most bills will require five working days to come up with a racial-ethnic impact statement,” Blomberg told the panel Tuesday. “But there could be some bills that require more time and we would let you know quickly.”
He also laid out the process by which those bills will be reviewed. A bill would first be sent to subject matter experts at the College of Criminology and Criminal Justice. Those experts range in focus from corrections to juvenile justice to policing, and more.
Researchers will then review empirical evidence that exists on similar programs, as well as what effects other states have seen when enacting those programs.
Finally, researchers will compare the impact for the period covered by the bill to the baseline projections presented Tuesday.
Senators showed repeated focus to issues of recidivism Tuesday, asking Blomberg how best to help individuals avoid reoffending.
Sen. Jeff Brandes picked up on Blomberg’s citing research showing that offenders who are able to find a job after a prison stint are much less likely to reoffend.
“We should be doing, in our prison system, everything we can to ensure employment on the back end when somebody is ultimately released. Is that a fair statement?” Brandes asked.
“I would support that 100% and all the research that I know would support that conclusion,” Blomberg said.