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Hundreds rally for criminal justice reform in Florida

Civil rights groups and advocates pushing for criminal justice reform rallied at the Florida...
Civil rights groups and advocates pushing for criminal justice reform rallied at the Florida Capitol Wednesday morning.(WCTV)
Published: Feb. 5, 2020 at 4:27 PM EST
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By: Lanetra Bennett | WCTV Eyewitness News

February 5, 2020

TALLAHASSEE, Fla. (WCTV) — Civil rights groups and advocates pushing for criminal justice reform rallied at the Florida Capitol Wednesday morning.

More than 350 people were there.

"189!" They shouted as they stood on the steps of the old Capitol building. The group was rooting for House Bill 189.

That’s the proposed legislation that would require Florida inmates to serve 65% of their time, instead of 85%.

Advocates say currently, once a person has earned rehabilitation credits to reduce their time served to 85% of their sentence, there's little incentive to continue good behavior.

That costs taxpayers millions of dollars, they say, to do little to rehabilitate them behind bars.

Debra Bennett recently served 19 years.

“I didn't know there weren't phone booths anymore or newspaper machines or everything. The whole world changed," she said. "There's no support. There's nothing."

Bennett went on to say a lack of support on the outside makes it more likely for someone to end up back in prison.

"85% doesn't make your recidivism rate go down. It gets it up, because just like Diane Hart said, they give us $50 and a bus ticket. So if you have no family and everybody's passed away, you're gonna do what you gotta do."

The group is advocating for educational, vocational, counseling and other programs, which will address the root causes of crime and give people the tools they need to be productive in the community when released.

"I've had to relearn how to be a mom, how to be a friend, how to be a sister," Tallahassee resident Kayla Bellflower said. "They don't teach you that behind those walls. They don't teach you any life skill."

A pastor at the rallied yelled, "Give people hope. 65% is hope! Give us 65%! Give it to us today!"

The bill sponsors and the rally supporters say they do believe this year will be the year for true reform.

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