County jails could soon see inmates serving more time behind bars

Currently, anyone sentenced to more than a year goes to state prison

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TALLAHASSEE, Fla. - County jails could soon see inmates serving more time behind bars. Currently, anyone sentenced to more than a year goes to state prison, but a committee in the state Capitol voted Thursday to extend the time to two years.

Despite a massive effort to hire more correction officers, state prisons remain chronically understaffed. State senators put corrections secretary Julie Jones on the hot seat Thursday.

"We're 2,000 down from 16,000," Jones said.

Lawmakers are now floating the idea of shifting non-violent short timers to local jails. State Sen. Rob Bradley wants to double the time people can spent in county jails from one year to two.

"We need to lower the number of prisoners that the Department of Corrections handles," Bradley said.

Local jails would be paid, but that has been a problem in other states where sheriffs turned incarceration into a cash cows.

"Similar policies have contributed to massive jail expansion," said Scott McCoy, of the Southern Poverty Law Center.

"Is there more incentive to incarcerate more people by building more jails?" reporter Mike Vasilinda asked.

"Well, there is, because there is a profit motive," McCoy said.

One fear being raised is that judges will sentence people to longer terms just to get them out of the local jail and into state prison.

"That is a unconstitutional system that is devoid of justice," Sen. Rob Bradley said.

Public defenders like the concept of keeping people closer to home, but have stopped short of endorsing the idea until more details are worked out.

"If there was a jail with a really good work-release program, where people could keep their jobs if they have to do a state DOC sentence, there could be some major advantages," said Nancy Daniels, of the Florida Public Defenders Association.

Sheriffs say they have about 500 empty beds on any given day.

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