Over the past several decades, the United States’ incarceration rate has skyrocketed, increasing by roughly 700% since 1970. Today, approximately one in 35 American adults are under some form of correctional supervision, and one in 110 are in prison or jail. In Florida, this trend is no less profound. While the population of the state roughly tripled between 1970 and 2014, its prison population increased by more than 1,000%. This profound growth occurred largely after the federal government and numerous states, including Florida, enacted various “tough on crime” policies aimed at incapacitating violent and nonviolent offenders alike. However, in addition to increasing the prison population, these policies also required that many low-level offenders be committed to prison for crimes that other nations punish with civil sanctions or community service.
Floridians from all along the political spectrum are also beginning to ask themselves tough questions, like: What if our prison system housed fewer inmates, allowing it to do a better job preparing nonviolent offenders for reentry into society while prioritizing prison space for hardcore, violent felons and sexual predators? Is public safety really enhanced by retaining nonviolent offenders for decades, including some who are past the age of 75 or 80? Is prison the best solution for people whose offenses are attributable to mental health problems? Might drug addiction be more successfully treated as a medical issue rather than as a criminal justice one?
Conservative voices at the local, state and federal levels are beginning to take a thorough look at our criminal justice laws to figure out which can be reformed.