Floridians want criminal justice reform

For the past few years, Inweekly has advocated for criminal justice reform. A recent poll released by The James Madison Institute and the Charles Koch Institute shows that Floridians overwhelmingly support criminal justice reform.

“For the past few years as we’ve worked in the criminal justice arena, we have experienced first hand the changing debate on these issues. The poll solidified what we’ve come to know—Floridians want criminal justice reform,” said Sal Nuzzo, vice president of policy at the James Madison Institute (JMI). “We’ve been talking the talk and now it is time to walk the walk. Policymakers should take serious strides toward improving the outcomes of those within the criminal justice system, increasing public safety and continuing to be good stewards of taxpayer dollars.”

The poll results show that Floridians are dissatisfied with the status quo:

Systemic Problems

72 percent of Floridians agree or strongly agree that it is important to reform the criminal justice system in Florida.
75 percent of Floridians agree or strongly agree that the prison population is costing our country too much money.
Almost two-thirds of Floridians believe there are too many nonviolent offenders in prison.

Collateral Consequences of Incarceration

72 percent believe felons should be able to get licenses to work after they finish serving their sentences.
74 percent believe prisons should focus more on rehabilitation than punishment.

Fixing Juvenile Justice

70 percent believe juveniles should be held in a system separate from adult offenders.
When asked who Floridians trust more to make decisions about whether to charge a juvenile as an adult, those polled overwhelmingly choose judges over prosecutors by a 47-point margin.

“Across the country dozens of states have enacted meaningful criminal justice reforms to improve public safety, reduce costs, respect the dignity of individuals, and make victims whole,” said Vikrant P. Reddy, senior research fellow at the Charles Koch Institute.

“For years, Florida, one of the largest and most influential states in the country, had remained the exception. But recent changes to mandatory minimum sentencing, improved civil asset forfeiture practices, and a renewed focus on mental health treatment demonstrate that things are changing in the Sunshine State. Florida’s leaders should continue this momentum, listen to their constituents, and keep working toward enacting criminal justice reforms.”

ACLU of Florida Executive Director Howard Simon was very encouraged about the poll results:

“We are heartened by the poll released by the Charles Koch Institute and James Madison Institute showing support for the reform of Florida’s criminal justice system. It is further evidence of broad support for reform from across the ideological spectrum.

“We are heartened that 72% of Floridians agree that it is important to reform Florida’s criminal justice system and that 75% of Floridians agree that the prison population is costing too much money. This is largely because, as almost two-thirds of Floridians understand, there are too many nonviolent offenders, especially those with a drug addiction, now filling our prisons.

“The finding of the depth of public support for reform of the system, as noted by James Madison Institute Vice-President Sal Nuzzo, should now translate into policy changes enacted by our Legislature. This is especially true of the finding that when juveniles under the age of 18 are put into the adult prison system, their rate of recidivism increases by more than one-third. As the Koch/JMI Poll indicates, this should translate into support by legislators for dramatic reform in the system of ‘direct filing’ of juveniles, by which prosecutors have the sole authority to charge them as adults.”

“This is a moment in time when Legislators can show the courage to act on the breadth depth of public support for the reform of a criminal justice system that is costing too much and not making our state any safer – in fact, in how we treat juvenile offenders, the system is making the state less safe.

“Floridians of all political stripes are ready to reform our broken criminal justice system – the time is now for the legislature to act.”


Note: The survey was conducted by Survey Sampling International in July 2016. All participants were residents of Florida and were surveyed by use of an opt-in Web-based panel. The survey had 1,488 total respondents in English and Spanish with a +/- 3 percentage points margin of error.