Nov 15, 2021 - News

"Two strikes" law fills FL prisons with lifers

Illustration: Shoshana Gordon/Axios

In the mid 1990s, a slew of states passed "three strikes" laws allowing prosecutors to send persistent repeat offenders to prison for life — even for nonviolent felonies.

Yes, but: Florida went a step further in 1997 by passing an unusual "two strikes" law — the Prison Releasee Reoffender Act — that directs prosecutors to seek the max for someone who commits a felony within three years of leaving prison.

Why it matters: Florida, which abolished parole in 1983, now leads the nation — by far — in prisoners serving life without parole, according to an investigation by the Marshall Project and the Tampa Bay Times.

  • More than 13,600 people are serving life without parole in Florida — almost a quarter of the nationwide total.
  • Housing the for-life population cost Florida $330 million last year.

Driving the news: 44% of people serving life in Florida were not convicted of murder, the analysis of state data found.

  • Robbing a church of a laptop, holding up motel clerks for small amounts of cash and stealing a television while waving a knife all earned life sentences.

What they're saying: "This is an incredibly punitive law that is totally arbitrary," state Sen. Jeff Brandes, a St. Petersburg Republican trying to repeal the two-strikes law, told the Marshall Project.

Of note: The two-strikes punishment has been disproportionately applied to Black men, who account for almost 75% of those serving time because of the 1997 law, the analysis found.

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