The Restriction on Earning Gain Time Which Requires Florida Prisoners to Serve 85% of their Sentence.
Due to the fact that for over a decade Florida officials had utilized a host of early-release programs as a means to keep the prison population in compliance with a federal court order, by 1995 there was mounting public pressure to change course. In 1995, the
Florida Legislature enacted a session law entitled the “Stop Turning Out Prisoners Act” (the “STOP Act”), ch. 95-294, Laws of Fla. Therein, that statute added a provision to the incentive gain time statute, § 944.275, Florida Statutes, requiring “that all inmates, not just career criminals, with offense dates on or after October 1, 1995, must serve 85% of their sentences (i.e., no more than 15% of gain time is allowed).” Comer v. Moore, 817 So. 2d 784, 785 (Fla. 2002). Since then, every few weeks or months, Florida prisoners (and their families ) will once again struggle to determine whether their is any validity to the latest information circulating at the time in prison on the “”Inmate Rumor Mill” declaring that indeed, “the 85% statute is “going down” to 65% due to the overcrowded prison system.” Likewise, months or weeks before Christmas the “Inmate Rumor Mill” once again starts transmitting rumors that someone’s family has “verified’ that the DOC must release thousands of prisoners early to avoid overcrowded conditions, thus thousands of inmates are being evaluated for an early- Christmas kick-out.
Although over the years state legislators have considered modifying the 85% requirement for those convicted of non-violent offenses, most notably during Governor Scott’s transition, there is no credible information that such will happen at least before the 2012 Florida Legislatures convenes in April of 2012. Why? Well, the primary reason is just that: the FDOC is NOT overcrowded at present, and the prisoner population is not projected to see any real growth for at least the next two years. How do I know this, you ask? Because the Legislature’s own research entity said so earlier this year.
Among the Legislature’s arsenal of research capabilities is the lesser-known “Criminal Justice Estimating Conference” (CJEC), which among it varied duties, is primarily tasked with holding a conference every three months in order to consider the latest data about admissions and releases, the State’s crime rate, etc., in order to then issue a detailed projection to state officials of the current and future size of the prisoner population in the FDOC. The website for the CJEC is here, where you can find its most recent quarterly executive summary, updats, and other interesting data.
According to the CJEC Executive Report issued in Februarym 2011, the FDOC population is expected to DECLINE over the next two years before increasing again:
A review of the latest criminal justice system measures indicated that reported
index crimes decreased by 4.8 percent in the first six months of 2010 compared
to the same period in 2009. Felony filings declined by 3.5 percent and guilty
dispositions decreased by 8.9 percent in 2010 over 2009. New commitments
decreased by 5.9 percent in FY 2009-10 over the prior fiscal year.
There were 704 fewer technical violators admitted to prison in FY 2009-10 than
in the previous fiscal year. Year-and-a-day sentences declined in FY 2009-10 by
1,177 from the FY 2008-09 level and the average sentence length for new
commitments increased from 55.7 months in FY 2008-09 to 59.1 months in
The conferees adopted a forecast which assumes a 6.2 percent decrease in total
admissions in FY 10-11 and a 3.7 percent decrease in FY 11-12. Total
admissions then increase gradually growing by 2.2 percent in FY 15-16.
The projected prison population for June 30, 2011 is expected to remain virtually
unchanged from the June 30, 2010 population, to decline slightly for two years
and to grow gradually for the last three years of the forecast period. The new
forecast is 718 lower than the October forecast at the end of FY 10-11 and 5,676
lower at the end of FY 15-16.
Criminal Justice Estimating Conference, Executive Report, February 21, 2012.
Thus, as you can see for yourself, there is currently no projected increase in the FDOC prisoner population on the immediate horizon, and absent such, there is little (read: no) likelihood that state officials will do away with the 85% requirement simply because they have become sympathetic to prisoners and their families.
However, with that said, it is extremely important to point out that prisoners and their families must not assume that because the population is not expected to increase over the next year or two, state leaders will not have any reason to change the 85% requirement. To be sure, the facts are quire the other way: now, more than ever, state officials are considering ways to reduce the record state budget, and that includes adopting policies that reduce the fiscal impact of the criminal justice and correctional systems. At roughly $20,000 a pop, keeping a non-violent prisoner in prison for 85% of their court- imposed system isn’t making a whole lot of fiscal sense to an increasing segment of the folks in Tallahassee, from the Governor’s office to the halls of the Legislature. In fact, I predict that during the 2012 Regular Session, we will see numerous bills filed that call for the modification of the 85% requirement for non-violent offenders. So it is vitally important that upon such a bill or bills being filed, prisoners’ families need to get busy with the letter writing campaign. One thing is certain – God willing, I will be right here leading the call to action.