Fla. Lawmakers Want to Release Some Prisoners Early

For thousands of Floridians, a life of drug abuse has turned in to a life behind bars.

In Florida, convicts have to serve 85 percent of their sentence. Lawmakers like democratic Rep. Alan Williams are intent on changing that.

"Florida has to be a state that shows compassion, especially for those individuals who have not committed a crime against another individual - they just have an issue, especially in a lot of cases dealing with drugs, that we have to try and figure out, 'how can we rehabilitate them?'" he said.

Governor Scott's already vetoed a 2012 bill that would've allowed for early release. Non-violent drug offenders who've served at least half their sentence could have been transferred to a drug treatment program.

Scott's concerned letting convicts out early might hurt public safety, and critics point out the program he killed could only have handled around 300 inmates.

"You're not focusing enough on doing the things to stop the recidivism based on drug abuse," said Frank Messersmith with the Florida Sheriff's Association. "You need to create the programs. If only 20 percent of all the prisoners that are eligible can find this treatment, it does no good to have the program."

Early release advocates aren't giving up. They plan to be back with a new bill in 2013, along with a new focus on winning over Governor Scott.

"I think it's up to the governor to really dig deep into this bill," said Rep. Williams.

Right now, Florida taxpayers spend well more than $2 billion a year on the prison system. The bill's backers say letting non-violent offenders out early could shave hundreds-of-millions off that price tag, depending how broad the effort is.

The early released bill passed the state Senate unanimously. Just four members of the republican-controlled state House voted 'no'.


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