Non-Violent Crimes Increasingly Land Offenders in Florida Prisons

Florida has the United States’ third largest prison population, totaling a whopping 104,000. That number may lead someone to believe that Florida is home to lots of violent offenders, but a look at prison statistics reveals that this is not the case. Then who exactly is the State of Florida locking up?

The Florida legislature asked the Office of Program Policy Analysis and Government Accountability (OPPAGA) to study Florida’s prison population and identify ways to reduce the state’s prison costs. In 2009, OPPAGA published a paper outlining its study.

Incarcerating First-Time Offenders, Non-Violent Offenders

Among other pieces of data, OPPAGA looked at one day in August as a case study on Florida’s prison system. It found that on August 31, 2009, 40 percent–almost half-of Florida’s prison population was incarcerated for nonviolent crimes, and 60 percent of them were first-time offenders.

Fifty percent of nonviolent offenders were in prison due to drug crimes , and drug offenders accounted for 20 percent of the entire Florida prison population. OPPAGA also found that between 2004 and 2009, 70 percent of newly admitted prisoners were convicted of nonviolent crimes. These startling numbers should prompt legislators to consider revising the state’s requirement that nonviolent offenders-especially first-time offenders-serve hard time.

Florida’s Criminal Sentencing Needs Reform

Another look at Florida’s sentencing laws would also help those unfortunate individuals who are serving time for crimes they didn’t commit. One such person is Leroy McGee, who was imprisoned for four years for a robbery he did not commit. McGee was working as a janitor at the local high school when he was accused of the robbery, and after he was exonerated he struggled to hold down a job. The State of Florida paid McGee $179,000 in reparations for the time he served.

There are several things legislators can do to reverse these startling trends. OPPAGA recommends funding rehabilitation programs, probation centers, and drug treatment as alternatives to hard time. It also noted that day reporting and supervision with the support of GPS would be effective for nonviolent criminals.

Accused? Protect Your Rights

Florida’s prison population demonstrates the need to take criminal charges seriously. Even if you are accused of a nonviolent crime or are being charged for the first time, you may face prison time in Florida. Protect your rights and contact a Florida criminal defense attorney to develop a defense strategy and achieve the best possible outcome.