To achieve true equity and liberation for those most impacted by our justice system, we have to change the systemic institutions that have created this crisis.

Approximately 147,000 people are incarcerated in Florida’s prisons and jails, costing our taxpayers billions of dollars every year that could be used to solve some of the most pressing issues we face regarding education, healthcare and infrastructure.

In a state where Black people make up only 16 percent of the population but 46 percent of the incarcerated population, there is clearly a crisis in our criminal justice system. We need reform at every level of our justice system – from pre-arrest and arrest to sentencing, incarceration and reentry.

For far too long, America’s reliance on mass incarceration and a broken criminal justice system has had a devastating and disparate impact on Black and brown people.

We need to end our reliance on mass incarceration which has proven to be ineffective and discriminatory. We need to abolish the prison system not only in Florida, but around the country and focus our work on community and restorative justice that saves taxpayer money and leads to safer, healthier communities.

We envision a criminal justice approach that is fair and free of racial bias, keeps communities safe and respects the dignity and rights of all who come into contact with it. We envision a Florida that prioritizes people over prisons by supporting rehabilitation and abolishing prison.

At the ACLU of Florida, we are working to dismantle the structural and institutional racism built into America’s criminal justice system. Mass incarceration in America has an outsize impact on people of color, and we are working to ensure real equity and fairness in our society.

In Florida we should end overcriminalization; ensure fair and constitutionally sound treatment of all people; remove barriers to reentry; and increase government transparency and accountability.

We need sentencing reform that center’s restoration and rehabilitation over retribution. As is currently exists, our criminal justice system is racist at every level, from pre-arrest to sentencing.

For decades, Florida has relied on incarceration as the solution to mental health issues, poverty, and addiction, resulting in a draconian system that warehouses tens of thousands of people in prison, at enormous taxpayer expense. This broken system costs Floridians approximately $2.7 billion per year, and does next to nothing to rehabilitate those in prison and ensure that once released they will be able to live independently in their communities.

Mass incarceration is ineffective, wastes taxpayer money and makes us less safe.

We need sentencing reform in Florida that center’s restoration and rehabilitation over retribution. The criminal justice system has criminalized Black existence for generations, routinely giving longer sentences to Black and brown people compared to white people.

Specifically, we need to reform Florida’s arbitrary law that puts a cap on the amount of rehabilitation credit a person can earn while incarcerated. Florida’s statutory “cap on gain time,” also known as the 85 percent rule, disincentivizes good behavior and rehabilitation. Instead of incentivizing and rewarding good behavior and participation in educational, vocational, skills training, and other rehabilitative programming that will help individuals successfully contribute to society upon release from prison and reduce the likelihood that they will re-offend, Florida arbitrarily caps the amount of time a person can earn and use. If Florida got rid of this cap. it could save the state more than $870 million dollars.

We need to get rid of this outdated cap that is warehousing individuals at taxpayer expense, year after year, who don’t pose a threat to society and is costing the state of Florida millions. The ACLU of Florida is committed to reforming this arbitrary cap and incentivizing rehabilitation.

Cash bail is one of the most corrupt and broken parts of the justice system, as wealth determines freedom, regardless of due process.

While many people’s understanding of how money bail works might be limited to what they’ve seen on television shows, money bail is actually one of the biggest problems plaguing our justice system. Every year in Florida, thousands of people are jailed while they await their trial simply because they can’t afford to post bail. When someone is unable to pay the total bail amount up front, they have to make an impossible choice: sit in jail while their case moves forward, plead guilty, or pay a bail bonds company a nonrefundable fee to get out – all this even if they are innocent.

As a result, many people who are also low income are forced to sit in jail while they wait for their trial.

Aside from unnecessarily tearing people from their jobs, families and communities, keeping someone in jail before their trial also increases the chances that that person – even one who is innocent – will end up pleading guilty, being convicted and receiving a longer sentence than if they had been released while their case worked its way through the courts.

This is especially the case for people of color. People of color are already over-policed, and arrested and detained more often than their white counterparts. Money bail only intensifies this existing race and class discrimination in the justice system. Because people of color are often over-charged with crimes that carry heavier sentences, they also face higher bail amounts. 

Our most fundamental of rights, our freedom, is not something to be cavalierly taken away from people simply because they are unable to pay for it. The ACLU of Florida is committed to ending cash bail in Florida.

We need to stop suspending licenses for non-driving related offenses, like unpaid fines and fees.

Black Floridians make up only 16.9 percent of the State’s population, but in 2013 black Floridians made up 37.3 percent of all driver license suspensions for outstanding fees and drug offenses. 

No one should be locked up or prohibited from driving because they can’t afford to pay a court fine or fee. In Florida, nearly two million driver’s licenses are suspended each year. Most of those suspensions are issued by clerks of court unrelated to any driving or traffic offense. The Supreme Court ruled that jailing someone only for the inability to pay a court fee or fine violates the Constitution, specifically the equal protection clause of the 14th Amendment. Incarcerating poor people because they are poor or can’t pay fines and fees unrelated to crime is debtors’ prison, which was outlawed in America in 1833.

Massive racial disparities exist among Floridians that receive suspended driver’s licenses for outstanding financial obligations.

 

License suspensions and revocations are a catch-22. They are often used to punish people who do not pay certain fees, even if they are unable to afford such fees. If a person loses his or her license and can’t get to work,  the individual will fail to earn the money needed to pay the fines and fees to get his or her license back.

The ACLU of Florida is committed to ending the practice of suspending driver’s licenses for inability to pay and non driving offenses.

To ensure our criminal legal system prioritizes people over prison and is fair and free of racial bias, we are committed to:

Reducing mass incarceration and racial disparities by securing sentencing reform through:

  • Increasing the amount of rehabilitation credit a person can earn while incarcerated from 85% to 65%.
  • Exploring legal options and other efforts to reduce racial disparities in plea agreements.
  • Encouraging candidates for State Attorney to commit to pursuing sentencing reform through their own charging decisions and in state statute.

Reducing incarceration and racial disparities caused by unaffordable money bail by:

  • Exploring legal options and other efforts to block the use of money bail in Florida. 
  • Encouraging candidates for State Attorney to commit to not seek money bail and pursue statutory reform.

Reduce incarceration and racial disparities caused by driver’s license suspensions by:

  • Exploring legal options and other efforts to block license suspensions for non-driving offenses.
  • Reforming clerk of court policies on suspensions for failure to pay court costs.
  • Repealing state statutes that permit suspensions for non-driving offenses. 

Stay informed

ACLU of Florida is part of a network of affiliates

Learn more about ACLU National