Criminal Justice Reform in Florida


Photo by Eric Salard via Flickr

A Symposium for Florida Journalists on the Outlook & Challenges of Criminal Justice Reform

A John Jay Media Fellowship Program

When Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis took office in January, many Floridians expected a continuation of the tough criminal justice policies pursued by his predecessor Rick Scott. But DeSantis has confounded expectations in his first year in office.  In June, he signed a criminal justice reform package that State Sen. Jeff Brandes, chair of the state Appropriations Subcommittee on Criminal and Civil Justice, called “one of the largest we’ve seen in decades,” with measures including raising the monetary threshold for felony theft and reducing occupational licensing barriers for ex-felons.

What’s next? Will this year’s reforms pave the way for deeper change in a diverse state where lingering tough-on-crime attitudes contend with growing voices for change?

“Now is the time to make Florida’s criminal justice system smarter,” Sen. Brandes, said in a statement accompanying a bracing analysis of the state’s criminal justice system released in June by the Crime and Justice Institute.

To explore these questions, Florida journalists, legislators, educators, academics, advocates and justice officials will gather at the University of Florida at Gainesville for a two-day conference on Nov. 21-22, 2019.  The conference, organized by the Center on Media, Crime and Justice at John Jay,  will look at the politics and practice of reform in Florida in 2019.  Discussion topics include efforts to further reduce incarceration, new developments in prisoner reentry, reform of the sex offender system, innovative approaches around the state in the areas such as juvenile justice, caring for the incarcerated mentally ill and prison-based rehabilitation and education.

Conference speakers include Florida Supreme Court Chief Justice Charles Canady; Shalini Goel Agarwal, senior supervising attorney for the Southern Poverty Law Center’s Tallahassee office; Carey Haugwout, chief of the Florida Public Defenders Association; State Sen. Keith Perry, GOP chair of the Senate’s Criminal Justice Committee; Katheryn Russell-Brown, director, University of Florida Levin College of Law’s Center for the Study of Race and Race Relations; reentry activist Rev. Clifford Tyson, founder of Deliverance for Life Ministries; and Hillsborough County State Attorney Andrew Warren.

Reporting Fellowships for up to 20 Florida journalists are available, which will pay for travel and accommodation. Those wishing to apply for the Fellowships should contact Katti Gray, conference journalism coordinator, at:  

The Florida conference is the second in a series of on-the-record regional justice conferences, scheduled in 2019-2020, aimed at taking a deep dive into emerging reforms around the country, is sponsored by the Charles Koch Foundation. The Foundation plays no role in choosing the participants or developing the program agenda.

Please continue to watch this space for research, material and stories emerging from the sessions.

The final agenda is available here.