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

Scroll Down for Audio Files From Conference

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 gathered 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,  looked at the politics and practice of reform in Florida in 2019.  Discussion topics included 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 included 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.

The Florida conference was 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.


Day One Nov. 21, 2019

Andrew Warren

Andrew Warren

KEYNOTE remarks: Andrew Warren, State Attorney, Tampa   58:50




Keith Perry

Florida Sen. Keith Perry

SESSION 1 Politics of Criminal Justice Reform in Florida (Part 1)

William Gervone, State Attorney, 8th Judicial Circuit;
Greg Newburn, State Policy Director, Families Against Mandatory Minimums; Sen. Keith Perry, Chair, Florida Senate Criminal Justice Committee. MODERATOR: Katti Gray, CMCJ


Photo by Eric Salard via Flickr

SESSION 2 Politics of Criminal Justice Reform in Florida (Part 2)  What to Prioritize?  1:07:10

Kara Gross, Legislative Director, ACLU of Florida; Chelsea Murphy, State Director, Right on Crime; Robert Weissert, Exec VP, Florida TaxWatch;  MODERATOR: Rachel Grant, University of Florida College of Journalism.

SESSION 3 Views From the Bench  1:12:40

The Hon. Charles Canady, Chief Justice, Florida Supreme Court; The Hon. Walter M. Green, 8th Judicial Circuit; MODERATOR: Kenneth Nunn, Asst Director, Criminal Justice Center, University of Florida Levin School of Law.

SESSION 4 Views From the Bar  1:03:35

Shalini Goel Agarwal, Southern Poverty Law Center, Florida office; Stacy A. Scott, Public Defender, 8th Judicial Circuit; MODERATOR David Ovalle, Miami Herald

Day Two Nov. 22, 2019

SESSION 5 Re-Entry Models: Successes, Challenges, What’s Ahead 1:25:47

Kevin T. Gay, Operation New Hope; Joe Lipsey, Asst Director, Alachua County Court Services; Marq Mitchell, Founder, Chainless Change; Jhody Polk, Florida Council for Incarcerated and Formerly Incarcerated Women and Girls; MODERATOR Katti Gray, CMCJ.

SESSION 6 Views from Returning Citizens  45:39


Cellie Mayol, Compass for Change; Marianne Vandrongen, Alachua County Reentry Coalition-Formerly Incarcerated Section; MODERATOR Katti Gray

SESSION 7 Keeping the Mentally Ill in Care–and Un-Incarcerated


Cathy Hatch, Polk County Board of County Commissioners; The Hon. Ginger Lerner-Wren, 17th Judicial Circuit; Risdon Slate, Florida Southern College. MODERATOR Jennifer Zedalis, University of Florida Levin School of Law.


Carry Pettus-Davis  45:04

Founding Director, Florida State University Institute for Justice and Development


SESSION 8 The View From Corrections 58:22


Maj. Jeffrey Cloutier, jail director, Alachua County Sheriff’s Office; Jeff Mallow, President, Miami-Dade Chapter, National Latino Peace Officers Association; MODERATOR: Stephen Handelman

SESSION 9  Hot Topics 1:22:52


Deborrah Brodsky (Juvenile justice) Project on Accountable Justice, Florida State University; Gail Colletta (Sex Offender Reform) Florida Action Committee; Katheryn Russell-Brown (Race and Equity) Center for Study of Race and Race Relations, University of Florida Levin College of Law; MODERATOR: Katti Gray

JOURNALIST ROUNDTABLE: Covering Florida’s Justice System 1:02:12


Ted Bridis, Rob Hiassen Lecturer in Investigative Reporting, University of Florida College of Journalism

DISCUSSANTS: Katti Gray, Stephen Handelman