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Florida sentencing system faulted in new Pew study

A nationwide study by Pew Charitable Trusts finds that Florida leads all states in so-called "max-outs," the number of prison inmates who serve their full sentences and are released to the community with no supervision or support. A high percentage of those inmates commit new crimes and are sent back behind bars at an enormous cost to taxpayers.

Pew's report spans a period of 1990 to 2012, so it dates to the years of a Democratic governor, Lawton Chiles. According to Pew's findings, max-out rates rose in 23 states during that period, and accounted for more than four of every 10 releases in nine states with Florida having the most.

Florida was followed by Maine, Massachusetts, New Jersey, North Carolina, Ohio, Oklahoma, South Carolina and Utah. The fewest max-outs during that period were in Oregon, California, Arkansas, Wisconsin and New Hampshire.

As the study notes, Florida abolished parole in 1983 and imposed rigid sentencing guidelines, following passage of a 1995 law that required most inmates to serve at least 85 percent of their sentences. (The bill's legislative champion was then-Republican Sen. Charlie Crist, now a leading Democratic candidate for governor). Since passage of the so-called STOP law, or Stop Turning Out Prisoners, max-outs in Florida have risen sharply, Pew found.

Pew recommends some period of supervised release for all offenders, and tailoring supervision conditions to risk and need.

In 1990, Florida released about 12,000 inmates, or 32 percent of offenders released that year, with no supervision, the Pew report states. By 2012, the max-out rate had risen to 64 percent, resulting in more than 21,000 inmates leaving prison that year with no monitoring. Many are non-violent inmates who committed drug crimes.

For the first time, the Legislature this spring passed a bill that requires the Department of Corrections to provide every Florida-born inmate with a copy of a birth certificate and a state-issued ID card upon release. The prison system also must help those inmates get Social Security cards.

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