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FL Enacts More Anti-Prisoner Laws

On June 14, 1995, several laws affecting prisoners were passed into law without the signature of Governor Lawton Chiles. Under this legislation prisoners convicted after October 1, 1995, must serve at least 85% of their sentences in prison. Other laws will expand the prison system's "legal" population capacity and impose mandatory minimum terms for repeat offenders convicted of a fourth violent crime. The measures are expected to cost more than $2 billion and double the prison system's current 60,000 prisoners within the next five years.

These laws had initially been proposed as an amendment to the Florida constitution but failed to make the ballot last year after the state Supreme Court threw it out as being misleading to voters. The ballot initiative was sponsored by a group called Stop Turning Out Prisoners, lead by Kathleen Finnegan, a former prosecutor. [Editor's Note: the name of STOP is quite ironic in that "turning out" in prison slang generally refers to the act of sexually assaulting and effeminizing a prisoner. So in that spirit, we too think the state should stop "turning out" prisoners.] Despite the electoral setback the STOP plan soon gained momentum among state legislators who passed it into law.

The effect of changing the prison system's "legal" capacity is a classic legislative sleight of hand. As a result of prior litigation Florida prison officials had to maintain the prison system close to its rated capacity, usually around 98% or so. When the prison population reached or exceeded that point measures were taken to reduce the population, such as earned early releases, gain time, etc. By changing that "legal" capacity without building any additional prison cells the legislature thinks that by waving its magic wand it can thus "create" 40,000 cells out of say 30,000. Other states such as California are attempting to do the same thing. It remains to be seen how this will fare in court.

Governor Lawton Chiles claims he was opposed to the bill but did not veto it. A typical case of liberal opportunism: claiming to be opposed to something, being in a position to do something about it and then doing nothing. The net effect for prisoners remains the same: Republicans will beat us to death with a baseball bat and Democrats will use a stick. STOP isn't taking any chances, though, and has collected 100,000 signatures to get the measures put on the ballot and incorporated into the state's constitution in next year's election.

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