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Bill by GOP Sen. Keith Perry would let state inmates reduce prison time through rehabilitation

Florida State Sen. Keith Perry. Image: The Florida Channel
Florida State Sen. Keith Perry. Image: The Florida Channel

Republican State Sen. Keith Perry, whose district includes Ocala, has again filed a bill to let some inmates reduce their time in prison through rehabilitation.

Under his new bill, they would still have to serve at least 75% of their sentence.

Perry teamed up last session with Rep. Dianne Hart, a Tampa Democrat, on a bill for rehabilitation credits in addition to gain-time.

That one mandated just 65% of the sentence. Current law requires at least 85 %.

It drew opposition from law enforcement. The House version went nowhere. The Senate bill died in committee.

On Friday, Hart, who has filed another bill of her own, was just learning about Perry's new bill.

"It's strange," she said, "because I just talked to somebody yesterday that said, 'Would you accept 75 as opposed to 65?' But without me even knowing that. And I've already put in a call to him to have a meeting with him so that we could try to line the bills up in hopes we will maybe get something."

Perry wants to change the goal of prison from incarceration to punishment and rehabilitation. Many inmates -- but not sex offenders -- could earn time off for GEDs, college degrees, vocational certificates and drug treatment. 

In a tweet, Perry says he aims to create a prison environment where "people leave better than when they came in."

He says it would save millions of dollars and reduce recidivism. 

For her part, Hart has sought since 2018 to reduce the number of non-violent offenders in Florida prisons. Now she says, "Something is better than nothing."

Joe Byrnes came to Central Florida Public Media from the Ocala Star-Banner and The Gainesville Sun, where he worked as a reporter and editor for several years. Joe graduated from Loyola University in New Orleans and turned to journalism after teaching. He enjoys freshwater fishing and family gatherings.