Crime victims push lawmakers to help make conditions better for offenders

ST. AUGUSTINE, Fla – Four hundred people, all victims of previous crimes, rallied in Tallahassee on Monday to push for legislation that could prevent offenders from hurting more people. In a surprising move, the group is advocating for better conditions for criminals.

Jo-Lee Manning was one of the people participating. She’s the mother of 15-year-old Haley Smith and executive director of the Justice Coalition of Northeast Florida. Haley was killed by a hit-and-run driver in St. Johns County in 2013.

“We want to make victims less of a victim. Help make them survivors," Manning said.

The driver who killed Manning’s daughter is in prison for leaving the scene of a crash involving a death, but the driver had a lengthy list of arrests before the crash, including battery, grand theft, robbery, possession of a controlled substance and exploitation of the elderly.

"The young lady who killed Haley had been arrested 10 times before she killed Haley. If she had been offered rehabilitation while she was committing minor crimes, would my daughter still be alive today? That’s a good question,” Manning said.

The group wants lawmakers to take action to implement further improvements to probation, increased incentives for people in prison to participate in rehabilitative programming, and increased employment and housing protections for crime victims.

They’re hoping the state makes these improvements with the hope it will stop criminals from re-offending.

“Giving them the tools to succeed when they get out, where they can have a job and be successful and not continue in the same lifestyle," Manning said.

The event in the capital was the third annual Survivors Speak event. Aswad Thomas, with Crime Survivors for Safety and Justice, said the group achieved some success last year.

“We were able to extend the time limit for victims of crime to file for the state’s victims’ compensation program from one year to three years. We also extended the time limit that’s needed for victims to file a police report in order to be eligible for the program from 72 hours to five days,” Thomas said.

Last year, the Justice Coalition of Northeast Florida played a major role in advocating for the passage of criminal justice reform measure, HB 7125. It was the most expansive state justice reform bill passed in 20 years.

A rally is scheduled for Wednesday. That’s when victims said they will unveil their 2020 legislative goals.

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