TALLAHASSEE, Fl. (CAPITOL NEWS SERVICE) – Reforming sentencing laws and helping former inmates find a job was the goal of about 250 people demonstrating at the state Capitol Wednesday.
Lawmakers are exploring ways to keep people out of prison in an effort to cut costs.
For the second day in a row, hundreds rallied at the state capitol demanding criminal justice reform.
“Currently there are almost 100,000 people in prison. We are locking up too many people for far, far too long. We’ve got to fix that,” said Shalini Goel Agarwal with the Southern Poverty Law Center Action Fund.
Audrey Hudgins’ son has been one of those inmates for 22 years and will remain in prison for the rest of his life.
“My son and our family are still living this daily nightmare,” said Hudgins.
He got the mandatory minimum sentence for armed robbery, even though no one was hurt.
"And there was nothing the judge could do about it. Her hands were tied,” said Hudgins.
It’s stories like Hudgins’ that have advocates like Judy Thompson calling for parole to come back to the state.
“We all change over time. There’s no assessment in place to determine whether or not we can be an asset to the outer society,” said Thompson.
Some justice reforms are already gaining traction this year, including a bill that would raise the felony theft threshold from $300 to $1,500.
Bill Sponsor Senator Jeff Brandes says the need for reform goes beyond the emotional argument. There’s a financial crisis at the Department of Corrections.
“Our prisons are literally at the breaking point financially, facility wise. Our guards, our wardens are begging for more resources,” said Brandes.
Dozens of states have already taken some of the steps being proposed here in Florida and haven’t seen crime rates increase.
Other changes reformers are pushing include ending the practice of suspending drivers licenses for non-driving offenses and preventing felony convictions from preventing former inmates from getting licensed in certain trades.