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Florida Criminal Justice Reform: Understanding the Challenges and Opportunities (2017)

Florida policy makers should be able to answer how well fundamental characteristics of Florida’s prison system - high incarceration rates, poor public safety returns, and enormous public expenditures - meet rigorous standards for both safety and cost-efficiency. Do the current investments, practices, and policy strategies employed by our state’s criminal justice and correctional systems result in the returns Floridians expect and deserve?

It is possible to reengineer the prison system. A smaller system that judiciously reserved incarceration only for the purpose of incapacitating dangerous individuals would face far fewer challenges and accomplish better results. Achieving a better system will require sustained, purposeful, and systemic reform. As this report shows, previous adjustments in attempts to reduce the impacts of Florida’s criminal justice system were either too limited or too fleeting to overcome the forces of inefficiency that led to growth of our prisons. Given early discussions by the Florida Legislature, coupled with heightened attention to the continuing problems faced by the prison system, we are hopeful that the 2018 Legislative Session will be a notable line in Florida’s history - a place where we depart from historical inertia and growth and instead turn to rightsizing our state’s prison system. Florida can join our neighboring states - every single state that surrounds us and many more - and take deliberate steps toward more rational criminal justice policies and practices.

We urge Florida leaders to begin to unravel the policies and practices that grow the prison population without making us safer. First and foremost, we urge Florida’s decision makers to embrace potential changes with more transparency and full accountability. This can be done with rigorous, relevant, and sustained oversight and data collection and evaluation.

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