NWF Daily News
July 5, 2019
Florida’s criminal justice system is long overdue for an overhaul. For decades, the state stuck with a “longer is always better” sentencing policy, even as pressure mounted to stop locking up so many low-risk offenders, do a better job of preparing prisoners to re-enter society at the end of their prison terms and cut down the burden of fees and fines that put so many low-income Floridians at risk of destitution for minor offenses.
Bipartisan support for reform has been building. This year, Congress’s passage of the First Step Act — which President Donald Trump signed into law — may have finally broken the logjam in Florida.
But the resulting legislation, which takes effect this week, is more deserving of the name “baby step.” The new law, formerly HB 7125, includes a wide-ranging, unsupportable blackout of criminal-justice information that will make it much harder to root out corruption, racially biased sentencing and other inequities in the justice system. Worst of all, it will make it tougher to track the records of people who have a long history of arrests on charges such as child molestation or preying on the elderly.
That’s why Barbara Petersen of Florida’s First Amendment Foundation called it one of the worst pieces of anti-Sunshine legislation she’s seen. But it’s worth acknowledging that it does make some steps in the right direction. Among them:
• Increasing the threshold for many felony theft charges from $300 to $750. This was one of the most badly needed reforms; Florida hasn’t moved this critical trigger point since 2001. And $750 is still low. As Kara Gross of the Florida ACLU noted, “Now it won’t be a felony for stealing an iPhone 5, just an iPhone X.”