ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. — Legislators in the Florida Senate are preparing to take up a bill that could, if passed, dramatically reduce minimum sentences for nonviolent offenders, and the proposal has already prompted opposition from law enforcement officials across the state.

Florida's current Truth in Sentencing Law requires inmates to serve at least 85 percent of their sentences. Senate Bill 572 would reduce that serving requirement to 65 percent for nonviolent felons.

Manatee County Sheriff Rick Wells opposes the change, pointing to a 67 percent drop in crime rates since the current law went into effect.

“It really comes down to being held accountable,” says Wells. “You’re talking about several years being taken off that sentence.”

According to the Florida Sheriff’s Association, nonviolent offenses that would qualify for a reduction in prison time should the law pass include:

  • Sale of illegal drugs while armed
  • trafficking in stolen property
  • possession of child pornography
  • leaving a crash scene involving a death
  • 4th or subsequent felony DUI conviction

Wells is not alone in opposing SB 572. Polk County Sheriff Grady Judd spoke out against the bill last month after his deputies shot and killed a man who they say threatened their safety.

The man they shot had recently been released from prison.

“I hope the legislators are listening to me, because this was one of those 'low level nonviolent felons,'” says Judd. 

Wells explained the Department of Corrections needs to focus on programs to help the inmates, rather than letting them leave early.

“Victims of crime need to know those criminals are being held accountable,” says Wells. “We feel like 85 percent is already a reduction in the sentence and that’s enough.”