Florida Leads the Nation for Prisoners Serving Life Without Any Chance of Parole – Thanks to the ‘Two-Strikes’ Rule

Toby Hazlewood

Should life mean life, for all second offences?

A study reported on November 11 reveals that Florida is leading the nation in the number of prisoners currently incarcerated for life, with zero chance of parole. This is largely due to its two-strikes rule which states that criminals who have already been imprisoned for one crime may receive a life sentence if they reoffend once released - regardless of the crime.

In part because of this rule, Florida now accounts for 13,600 of prisoners across the USA that are currently serving life sentences without chance of parole. This is more than a quarter of the total number serving such sentences nationwide.

In the 1990s, many states enacted the three-strike rule which allowed prosecutors to send persistent repeat offenders to prison for life — even for nonviolent felonies.

Two strikes, not three in Florida

Florida went one step further in 1997, introducing the Prison Releasee Reoffender Act. This law directs prosecutors to seek the maximum sentence for someone who commits a felony within three years of leaving prison. While this punitive law is intended to get more criminals behind bars and to act as a deterrent against reoffending, the numbers of prisoners currently serving life terms without parole seems to suggest it may have gone too far.

This, combined with Florida having abolished parole altogether in 1983 means that prisons are now full of convicted criminals who might have long-since been rehabilitated.

Repeal the law?

The long-term future of this law may well be in doubt.

State Senator Jeff Brandes is a St. Petersburg Republican who is trying to repeal the two-strikes law on the grounds that:

"[it] is an incredibly punitive law that is totally arbitrary,

Via his bill, he is seeking to reduce sentences for former inmates who reoffend within three years of being released from prison, by allowing qualifying inmates to apply for a re-sentencing hearing to reduce their sentences.

The bill (SB 1716) was brought to the state senate in early 2020 and unfortunately it failed to proceed beyond the Appropriations Subcommittee on Criminal and Civil Justice, at the height of the pandemic. Future bills may be brought to repeal the law.

In the meantime it looks as though Florida's prison population could continue to grow disproportionately as more second offenders are given life sentences without chance of parole, regardless of their crime.

What do you think of Florida's two-strike rule? Are you in favor of locking up second-time offenders for life? Let me know in the comments section below.

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