Associated PressJune 7, 2012 

TALLAHASSEE -- Florida led 35 states in a study issued Wednesday with a whopping 166 percent increase in the estimated average time that released prisoners spent behind bars over a 19-year span.

The study by the Pew Center on the States concluded Florida spent an extra $1.4 billion on prisons in 2009 alone because of the longer average release time, much of it for nonviolent inmates.

"Violent and career criminals belong behind bars, and for a long time, but building more prisons to house lower-risk, nonviolent inmates for longer sentences simply is not the best way to reduce crime," Pew project director Adam Gelb said in a statement.

The study says one key factor in lengthening Florida's prison stays was a 1995 law that requires inmates to serve at least 85 percent of their sentences before they can be released.

Another was tougher penalties across the board. That includes Florida's 10-20-Life law that sets minimum mandatory sentences for crimes committed with firearms.

A third factor has been judges' decisions to sentence criminals who commit relatively minor felonies to a year and a day as a way to save money for cash-strapped county governments. That's because inmates sentenced to a year or less serve their terms in county jails. Those with longer sentences, even just a day longer, go to state prison.

A companion Pew analysis based on 2004 data found some nonviolent prisoners could have been released up to two years earlier with little or no effect on public safety. Florida could have reduced its prison population by 2,640 inmates and saved $54 million that year with shorter terms for nonviolent offenders.

The Florida Legislature this year passed a bill that would have allowed judges to reduce sentences for a limited number of nonviolent inmates who serve at least half of their terms and go through rehabilitation programs, but Gov. Rick Scott vetoed it. Scott said the measure would have been an injustice to victims and violated the 85 percent requirement.

The bill was part of a national movement to reduce sentences for relatively minor crimes called "Right on Crime" that's being pushed by such conservative stalwarts as anti-tax crusader Grover Norquist and former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush, who championed the 10-20-Life law.

Florida was the only state of 35 included in the study that more than doubled prisoners' time served from 1990 through 2009. Virginia was second with a 91 percent increase. For all of the 35 states, the increase was 36 percent.

Bradenton Herald is pleased to provide this opportunity to share information, experiences and observations about what's in the news. Some of the comments may be reprinted elsewhere in the site or in the newspaper. We encourage lively, open debate on the issues of the day, and ask that you refrain from profanity, hate speech, personal comments and remarks that are off point. Thank you for taking the time to offer your thoughts.

Commenting FAQs | Terms of Service