Tripp Laino, 202-999-4273
FAMM urges Florida legislature to hold special session to address prison system during COVID-19 crisis
TALLAHASSEE – FAMM Director of State Policy for Florida Greg Newburn sent a letter today to Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis, House Speaker Jose Oliva and Senate President Bill Galvano calling for a special legislative session to address the state’s prisons in the wake of COVID-19. The letter also encourages Governor DeSantis and the Cabinet to exercise their authority to grant commutations of sentence to anyone who is not a threat to public safety.
“Bars, restaurants, theme parks, and beaches are closed all over the state,” Newburn said. “It defies logic to believe that containing the COVID-19 threat requires the near complete shutdown of our state’s economy, but that the same threat warrants no significant changes to our prison system.”
Minimizing the risk to the prisoner population – and to the thousands of corrections professionals who care for them – could require the release of elderly, chronically ill, or other low-risk people. These steps have been recommended by health professionals and corrections experts in several other states.
Florida law allows few release options, and those that exist are slow and overly bureaucratic. For example, “compassionate release” is limited to people who are either permanently incapacitated or facing imminent death. Unlike 17 other states, Florida has no release mechanism for elderly prisoners. The Florida Department of Corrections has no unilateral authority to identify and release highly vulnerable or low-risk prisoners.
“The people closest to this problem must have the flexibility to solve it,” Newburn said. “Current law ties the hands of the Department of Corrections unnecessarily. The Legislature must act now to save lives.”
For nearly three decades, FAMM has united the voices of affected families, the formerly incarcerated, and a range of stakeholders and advocates to fight for a more fair and effective justice system. FAMM’s focus on ending a one-size-fits-all punishment structure has led to reforms to sentencing and prison policies in 6 states and is paving the way to programs that support rehabilitation for the 94% of all prisoners who will return to our neighborhoods one day.
FAMM is a national nonpartisan advocacy organization that promotes fair and effective criminal justice policies that safeguard taxpayer dollars and keep our communities safe. Founded in 1991, FAMM is helping transform America’s criminal justice system by uniting the voices of impacted families and individuals and elevating the issues all across the country.