Gov. DeSantis signs into law criminal justice reform measure that will reduce probation periods for some misdemeanor offenders

There is generally widespread support across ideological lines for reasonable criminal justice reform measures, provided such reforms are narrowly targeted toward low-level and non-violent misdemeanor offenders and not applied more broadly to dangerous and violent convicted felons.

In a move made more than a month ago that hasn’t really garnered much attention yet, Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis (R) signed into law a bill that would hasten the transition out of probationary supervision for certain misdemeanor offenders, Breitbart reported.

The measure, which passed both chambers of Florida’s state legislature unanimously, was a collaborative effort pushed by a nonprofit group known as REFORM Alliance which was created by the rappers Jay-Z and Meek Mill.

Reducing probation periods for misdemeanor offenders

The bill, which was signed into law on June 3 and is known as SB 752, dealt with “Probationary or Supervision Services for Misdemeanor Offenders.”

That law generally applied to: “Probationary or Supervision Services for Misdemeanor Offenders; Authorizing the Department of Corrections to supervise certain misdemeanor offenders; deleting a prohibition on private entities providing probationary or supervision services to certain misdemeanor offenders; requiring the department to reduce a probationer’s or offender’s supervision term by a specified amount of time for completing an educational advancement activity; authorizing a private or public entity to provide probation services and other specified programming to misdemeanor offenders, etc.”

With this new law in place, it is estimated that around 15,000 Floridians over the next five years will be able to more quickly transition out of the state’s criminal justice system than they otherwise would before.

What does the law actually do?

According to Axios, this new law could help bolster the state’s workforce by allowing former prisoners to be employed sooner and save those former prisoners, a majority of whom are low-income, save money by having to pay fewer monthly probation fees.

The law allows for probationary, parole, or other supervised release periods to be shortened by applying credit for certain educational and workforce programs, such as completing a GED or vocational certificate or maintaining full-time employment during a supervisory period.

Another significant change in the new law is an allowance for remote check-ins, meaning people on probation or supervised release no longer have to meet in person with their supervisory officer — a requirement that sometimes forced people on probation to make an impossible choice between reporting in person to their officer versus showing up on time for work or providing care for their children.

“The COVID pandemic taught us all we can be very, very productive on Zoom and remotely,” Laura Arnold, a REFORM Alliance board member, told Axios. “So why can we not extend that piece of knowledge to the probation and parole system?”

Violent offenders and felons excluded

It should be noted that, unlike more progressive criminal justice reform measures enacted in Democrat-run state legislatures or unilaterally by ideologue district attorneys, this law appears to be narrowly limited to just low-level and non-violent misdemeanor offenders.

While there will undoubtedly be some critics of this new law, and some beneficiaries of the shortened probation periods will inevitably reoffend and go back to prison, on the whole, this looks to be a good and just measure that will help those with minor criminal offenses more quickly reenter society as a productive citizen.

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