Senate bill could reduce prison time for some

April 4, 2019

Perry wants to increase inmates’ “gain time,” opposes requiring payments to restore rights

A bipartisan bill in the Florida Legislature could allow inmates to leave prison earlier than previously allowed under state law.

The bill, sponsored by Sen. Jeff Brandes, R-St. Petersburg, would give inmates an additional 60 days gain time to leave prison upon completion of the Prison Entrepreneurship Program.

State law requires that inmates must serve at least 85% of their sentences and factors gain time into early release. Senate Bill 642, if passed, would allow some inmates to leave prison earlier, under certain conditions.

State Sen. Keith Perry, R-Gainesville, who co-signed the bill with Republicans Joe Gruters and Doug Broxson and Democrat Darryl Rouson, said the purpose is to ensure felons become model citizens upon their release.

“I think it’s worth the debate that if you’re going to get out of prison at some time, we have a public safety duty to make sure that the prisoner is less likely to commit a crime,” Perry said. “That’s a public safety issue.”

Prisoners are already able to get out early with good behavior, but Perry says they aren’t required to prove they’ve bettered themselves, which sometimes can lead to recidivism.

Florida’s recidivism rate in Florida is about 65% after five years.

The entrepreneurship program is intended to educate inmates and help them find employment after they are released, either by creating a business of their own or being hired by an existing company.

Completion of the program would not reduce time for people already restricted by state law from early release due to the nature of their crime. People who commit dangerous or violent crimes or sexual offenses would not qualify.

“The goal is for them to be a model citizen,” he said. “And you only do that by making them have model behavior.”

Perry said he believes some inmates tend to be worse off after they get out of prison than when they went in and that the program helps solve that.

“In prison, it’s kind of a tough guy environment,” he said. “There’s gangs in there.”

The bill has passed the Criminal Justice Committee 5-0 last month, a board Perry chairs. It will head to two more committees before going to a floor vote.

Perry said next session he would like to decrease the 85% time-served rule.

Another issue that has stirred debate is the implementation of Amendment 4. Florida voters last November overwhelmingly approved the amendment to restore voting rights for about 1.4 million people who completed their sentences.

Perry said lawmakers are working to better define crimes, like murder, because the amendment wasn’t clear enough. He said he is consulting with constitutional lawyers to see if other crimes, like attempted murder and accessory to murder, should disqualify some felons from regaining voting rights.

Perry said court fines, fees and interest shouldn’t restrict released felons from having their voting rights back, putting him at odds with some of his GOP colleagues.