JACKSONVILLE, Fla. – Florida’s prison system is in a crisis, and lawmakers are proposing lower sentences for drug users, early release for elderly inmates and allowing judges to deviate from mandatory minimum sentences.
A total of 93,823 inmates woke up in a Florida Prison Cell on Tuesday morning. Staffing is short, contraband is up and attacks on officers and other inmates are also up.
“We think there are massive problems inside the Department of Corrections,” said Sen. Jeff Brandes.
Brandes is proposing inmates who learn a trade get their sentence reduced from 85% to 65%.
But Florida sheriffs are pushing back with a report called “truth in sentencing.”
"You’re about have to beg your way into state prison,” said Pinellas Sheriff Bob Gualtieri. “The policies and laws that keep felons off the streets and out of our neighborhoods work. Crime is at a near-50 year low.”
Walton County Sheriff Michael Adkinson, who directed the study, said the numbers don’t lie.
“I’m afraid that this idea to just do away blanket with these sentences can have really unintended consequences,” said Adkinson.
Florida sheriffs argue that 95% of the prison population is made up of repeat offenders, but advocates assert that prisons have become nothing more than warehouses.
Brandes believes the sheriffs’ claim supports his case for reform.
"If we know that 95% are going to come right back out, shouldn’t we look to fix the existing system so it’s isn’t 95%? That’s what our legislation does,” said Brandes.
Florida’s 20 state attorneys also oppose any changes to the state’s sentencing laws that would shorten prison sentences.
This year, the prison system is costing taxpayers just over $2.4 billion.