Republican Florida lawmaker calls for criminal justice reform with bills up for consideration this legislative session

TALLAHASSEE, Fla. — A Republican state senator says Florida’s legislature, which is controlled by his party, must wake up and get serious about criminal justice reform.

Sen. Jeff Brandes said he wants to see more public offenders monitored by the Florida Department of Corrections Probation Office, or wrapping up their sentences completely if they have had good behavior.

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The state first must do a better job of incentivizing offenders to do the work necessary to reintegrate into society.

He said he has a slew of bills aimed at accomplishing that.

“We’ve got to fix the criminal justice system and the prison system in Florida,” he said.

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For years, Brandes has been one of the few in his party pushing legislation for extensive criminal justice reform.

“We have to look at mandatory minimums. The simple truth is, mandatory minimums don’t make Floridians safer,” he said.

This year, his allies across the aisle have a bit more hope for the success of his more than 10 bills.

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“I think that Republicans in the Florida legislature, who might not have considered co-sponsoring this kind of legislation in the past, would be receptive,” Sen. Geraldine Thompson said.

One of his bills, introduced with fellow Republican Keith Perry, increases the amount of time credited for good behavior. The measure sailed out of the judiciary committee, which Brandes chairs, as did a Democrat-sponsored bill that bans the arrest of children under the age of seven. Brandes is confident there are ways to get enough GOP support for these measures, and possibly more.

“People come to it for different reasons, whether it’s a social justice reason, whether it’s a liberty and freedom reason, whether it’s a desire to fix, truly come up with solutions to deal with addiction, or whether it’s a fiscal reason,” Brades said. “I don’t really care how you get there.”

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Of the three dozen or so criminal justice bills, only three have gotten a vote in committees so far.

But Brandes said if his colleagues don’t focus on fixing some of these issues now, it will end up costing taxpayers down the road.

Sarah Wilson

Sarah Wilson, WFTV.com

Sarah Wilson joined WFTV Channel 9 in 2018 as a digital producer after working as an award-winning newspaper reporter for nearly a decade in various communities across Central Florida.