Dozens of crime survivors, the surviving family members of fatal crimes and their allies gathered in the Capitol Wednesday both for catharsis and to raise its public safety agenda before lawmakers.
Crime Survivors for Safety and Justice (CSSJ) hosted its third annual Survivors Speak press conference in the fourth floor Rotunda as the culmination of its week in Tallahassee.
“Crime survivors in Florida want a system that focuses on our healing. We want a system that focuses on trauma recovery services. We want a system that focuses on rehabilitation,” said CSSJ’s managing director, Aswad Thomas.
Sen. Jason Pizzo and Rep. Shevrin Jones, both Democrats, stood alongside the survivors, who held pictures and signs honoring crime survivors loved ones lost.
“I will fight for the names on these posters. I will make sure that the names on these posters, that they don’t die twice,” Jones said. “And I probe every legislator, from Democrat to Republican, if you’re true to represent the 21 million people who are in the state of Florida, I want you to look these people in their face, the survivors, and let them know that your child and you matter too.”
Jones’ off-book comments led some in the audience and behind the podium to spontaneously call out the names of loved ones they lost to violent crime.
Florida Statute 921.002 says the primary purpose of sentencing is punishment and that while rehabilitation is recognized, it is subordinate to punishment. Pizzo hopes the Legislature will pass a bill changing the stated primary purpose to public safety.
Building off last Session’s omnibus public safety reform bill, CSSJ hopes the Legislature will pass gain time expansion, probation reforms and broader victim protections.
Increasing gain time would emphasize rehabilitation opportunities for inmates and lead to an early release for reformed criminals based on good behavior. Prison reform advocates argue pointing inmates toward model behavior will reduce recidivism rates.
“It is essential that we get this right, that we do not put people away in prison only to warehouse them and make them worse than when they went in,” said St. Augustine resident JoLee Manning, whose daughter was killed by a repeat offender.
The press conference comes a day after the Florida Sheriffs Association (FSA) spoke out against gain time for drug offenses. Michael Adkinson, Walton County Sheriff and past FSA president said the prisoners are repeat offenders who have already had chances at reform.
And on probation reforms, CSSJ hopes the Legislature will continue changing some technical probation violations punishments, which send offenders back to jail. Instead, they’re advocating for alternative punishments that reduce prison expenditures and lead to more released offenders finishing probation.
Additionally, a 2018 Florida survey by the Alliance for Safety and Justice found that 40% of survivors wanted emergency or temporary housing assistance while only 4% got that assistance. Job and housing assistance would let victims take time off and temporarily leave a home or neighborhood where they may still feel unsafe.
“No one should have to go through what so many of our members go through and to be victimized twice — first, by the perpetrator of the crime, and then punished again by either losing their job or forced to choose between it and their own sense of well-being and safety, or even worse, to go and stay in an unsafe home,” said Dr. LaDonna Butler, CSSJ St. Petersburg chapter coordinator.
Former NFL wide receiver Stedman Bailey, one of Jones’ constituents, was shot in the head in 2015, the injuries ending his football career.
“It’s important that public safety policies meet the needs of survivors and that there is a focus on prevention and rehabilitation instead of wasteful incarceration so we really can stop the cycle of crime, harm and trauma in our communities,” Bailey said.