Legislature-Created Group Never Meets, Does No Work
In 2008, the Legislature and governor created a body that was required to recommend changes in the state's criminal justice system, including the sentencing guidelines. But the group has never met, essentially violating the law that created the body.
The Correctional Policy Advisory Council has never held a meeting, never issued a report and never made recommendations about how the state should revise laws that govern the criminal justice system, leaving several lawmakers interested in revising sentencing guidelines without some of the background research they ordered up just a couple years ago.
Several people have been appointed to the 10-member council, which is authorized only until July 2011. But the appointees have never done the work that was laid out in statute. According to the law, the group should be meeting quarterly and by Jan. 15 of each year, it should be providing a report of its findings and recommendations to the governor, House and Senate.
The problem, said a House spokeswoman, is that there is no money to build a council staff who would do all the relevant research for the members and brief them on any issues they wanted to examine for recommendations to the Legislature.
“There's no real point in them meeting if there's no work for them to do,” said House spokeswoman Jill Chamberlin.
Several lawmakers have expressed an interest in revising the sentencing laws for the state, particularly looking at mandatory minimums and other sentencing guidelines that might be out of date. The hope is that examining the sentencing laws might help rehabilitate more people and also save the state money by reducing the number of people who are serving longer than necessary sentences.
Sen. Victor Crist, R-Tampa, who chairs the Senate Criminal Justice Appropriations Committee, said sentencing guidelines and correctional policies need to be examined regularly simply to determine whether the laws are up-to-date.
“The whole entire process needs to be reviewed on a regular basis,” Crist said. “Needs change, priorities change. Our statutes should change as our needs and values change in the state. And, you know, right now what we need today is different than what we needed yesterday.”
The law suggests using the Office of Legislative Services and the Office of Economic and Demographic Research for staff , but does not provide funding for those employees and doesn't name a point person to organize the council.
Crist said that the Legislature may include language in a budget implementing bill this spring that ensures that the council has to meet this summer and provide a point person to organize the council as a whole. The staff work may be assigned to legislative staff as part of their regular workload, he said.
“They do need to meet this summer,” Crist said. “They need to look at all of our sentencing guidelines, all of our positions and statutes regarding sentencing and see if there's room for improvement, room for change and make recommendations back to the Legislature on their findings so we can have a well thought out plan for next year.”
Chamberlin said House Speaker Larry Cretul has also assigned his staff to investigate the best way to move forward on this issue and other legislatively created councils that require extra staff, when there is little money to spread around. Chamberlin said Cretul recognizes the importance of examining the sentencing guidelines, but that the state's poor fiscal outlook has “interfered with this and other important initiatives.”
“I think everybody agrees that there were aspects of the bill that were noble but there were few resources available and now there are even fewer resources,” Chamberlin said.