Jul 11, 2022 - News

Florida's probation changes include remote appointments

Illustration of the Florida State Capitol building with lines radiating from it.
Illustration: Brendan Lynch/Axios

In an unexpected move, Gov. Ron DeSantis signed off on a collaboration with Meek Mill and Jay-Z to reform the state's probation system β€” and it's about to affect thousands of Floridians.

Driving the news: A new law that took effect this month is expected to help 150,000 people exit Florida's criminal justice system over the next five years.

  • The law was a bipartisan effort unanimously passed with the help of REFORM Alliance, a nonprofit founded by the two rappers along with Fanatics CEO Michael Rubin.

Why it matters: The law will help shorten the time that some are on probation meaning fewer monthly fees, which disproportionately fall on low-income individuals. And it works to redirect those people into our hemorrhaging workforce.

Details: People on state probation and community control in Florida are now eligible to receive new education and workforce credits that will shorten probation terms for those who pursue a GED or higher-ed degree, vocational certification and/or maintain full-time employment.

Point of intrigue: The state also now allows remote reporting, meaning people don't have to meet with their probation officers in person β€” an important resource for those without transportation or who would risk missing their appointment for work or child care.

  • "The COVID pandemic taught us all we can be very, very productive on Zoom and remotely," said Laura Arnold, a REFORM Alliance board member and the co-chair of Arnold Ventures. "So why can we not extend that piece of knowledge to the probation and parole system?"

The big picture: As of 2016, more than 4.5 million of the 6.6 million people in the U.S. criminal justice system were on probation, parole, or another form of supervision.

  • More than 75% of those on supervision were serving terms for nonviolent offenses, and at least 40% were on probation or parole for relatively minor offenses, according to REFORM.
  • The organization has helped pass 14 bills in nine states since its formation in 2019, including in Georgia, New York, Virginia and Mississippi last year.

What they're saying: Rep. Traci Koster (R-Tampa), who sponsored the bill, told Axios she'll continue to push for criminal justice reform. If she's re-elected, she plans to re-propose a bill to compensate victims of wrongful incarceration.

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