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FL Reforms Sentencing Law

Florida has built 10,729 new prison beds in the past five years yet has been unable to keep up with its growing prison population. In May of 1993 the Florida legislature passed the Safe Streets Initiative which has the goal of reducing prison overcrowding to ensure that violent and repeat offenders are not released early. The new law went into effect on January 1, 1994. The new sentencing guidelines will help state judges determine who will or will not go to prison.

The primary effect is that there will be fewer convicted felons going to state prisons as opposed to county jails. The FL DOC expects 208 fewer new admissions this year as a result of the law. The effort to increase time that violent criminals stay in prison means that criminals classified as nonviolent, such as thieves and drug traffickers, won't reach the threshold to be sent to prison. This leaves counties with the choice of housing the nonviolent felons in local jails or releasing them.

State lawmakers also decided to virtually eliminate public corruption as a crime, requiring over 60 convictions before a public official could be sent to prison. A prosecutor who specializes in public corruption cases said: "This is an outrage, a terrible message to put out. Think how many municipalities you have to rip off before you go to prison." Among other changes by the new sentencing guidelines are:

Establishes a new point system for determining whether a convict is sentenced to prison.
Requires the legislature to provide money for more prisons if lawmakers pass new laws that affect prison sentences.
Makes it easier to project future prison bed needs.
Eliminates "basic" gain time. Under the previous law prisoners received 10 days for each month they served.
Increases "incentive" gain time for positive activities from the current 20 days per months served to up to 25 days for prisoners convicted of nonviolent offenses. It remains 20 days for violent offenders.
Repeals the 3 year mandatory minimum sentences for the purchase and possession with intent to sell illegal drugs 1,000 feet from a school.
Repeals 3, 5 and 10 year mandatory minimum sentences for drug trafficking.
Repeals the 3 year mandatory minimum sentence for an assault or battery on adults over the age of 65.

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