The Florida Legislature has approved a bill to increase transparency in the criminal justice system, reports the Sarasota Herald-Tribune. Experts hope that the reform will address rampant racial disparities in sentencing that were reported earlier by the newspaper. House leaders agreed to a plan pushed by Senate President Joe Negron aimed at increasing the use of civil citations and pre-arrest diversion for juveniles who commit minor crimes. Senate leaders agreed to the data-collection proposal, which had cleared the House last month. “It’s important at all times to be evaluating our criminal justice system to make sure that there aren’t biases and prejudices and other things that we don’t want to happen,” Negron said. “And the best way to determine that is to get actual information and data and research to make sure that we’re treating everyone fairly regardless of their racial background, their education, income.”
Under the measure, various records stored by court clerks, state attorneys, public defenders, jail operators and law enforcement will be centralized, and the results will be published through a new database updated weekly. The Herald-Tribune reported that when a black and white defendant commit the same crime under similar circumstances, Florida courts sentence the black offender to far longer in lockup on average. The disparities are exacerbated in the war on drugs. The newspaper also showed the state’s current criminal justice data collection is flawed, fractured and rife with errors. The measure also calls for the state to digitize the criminal punishment code’s sentencing scoresheets. The form is used by the courts to ensure consistency in sentencing. Amy Bach of Measures for Justice, which promotes performance measures in the justice system, said she hoped that the Florida bill will serve as a model for other states.