At Society-First, we wish to shed light on the origin and the impact of Florida's "Life" sentence. As a victim, you may ask, "Why should we care about those who did not care about us?" We recognize this as a compelling argument, but we also recognize that our great country was never meant to play the role of a victim.
America has become a culture that promulgates punishment over rehabilitation. As a society, we need to find the solution to end the victimization of our communities and it is clear that punishment alone is not the answer. We have a culture that provides little hope for people who have caused harm and victims which results in us paying for our own victimization. It has become a self-inflicting wound that has crippled us for far too long.
The trail of monies spent on life sentences has created a continual mountain slide of expense, that feeds off of our communities. Just this year alone, over two billion dollars is being spent on Florida's mass incarceration machine, yet these costs have solved none of the multiplying growth in criminality. We should find this practice disturbing and call for necessary action and immediate reform.
Even if we operated under an "eye for an eye" philosophy, the only criminal act that we believe should take someone's life is the taking of life, yet Florida has over 20,000 thousand of its citizens serving Life or Virtual Life sentences. The cost alone for these 20,000 Lifers taken at a low of $20,000.00 a year equates to the taxpayers paying a whopping $400 million dollars a year, which turns into $4 billion dollars every ten years.
This is without factoring in all of the hidden costs which could reach as high as $400 billion dollars per year (nationwide). Estimated costs are borne by incarceration:
* Lost wages while imprisoned ($70.5 billion)
* Reduced lifetime earnings ($230 billion)
* Nonfatal injuries sustained in prison ($28 billion)
* Higher mortality rates of former prisoners ($62.6 billion)
* Fatal injuries to prisons ($1.7 billion)
Beyond the direct costs to prisoners, family members, and society can, in general, carry more financial burden in:
* Visitation costs ($0.8 billion)
* Adverse health effects ($10.2 billion)
* Infant mortality ($1.2 billion)
* Children's education level and subsequent wages as an adult ($30 billion)
* Children rendered homeless by imprisonment ($0.9 billion)
* Homeless of former prisoners ($2.2 billion)
* Decreased property value ($11 billion)
* Divorce ($17.7 billion)
* Reduced marriage ($9 billion)
* Child welfare ($5.3 billion)
(The Economic Burden of Incarceration in the US, from the Institute for Advancing Justice Research and Innovation, George Warren Brown School of Social Work, October 2016.)
The archaic practice of giving out life sentences is something that will erode the foundation of any civilized society. A lack of forgiveness and mercy in todays’ society, ultimately weakens it as a whole. To spend the rest of one's life (40-80 years in prison) for a criminal act that many times defines one day of one's life, offers little chance for redemption. A world without redemption is a world without change.
One cannot help but cringe when looking at the ugly truth of the actual historical reasoning behind the origin of Florida's "Life" sentence. An outdated draconian law that goes back to 1866 as the crop holders of yesterday wanted to reintegrate slavery back into their society. Sadly, this belief system is still alive in today's culture and though crop holders are basically a thing of the past, shareholders are not.
Back in 1866, during Florida's first post-war state government, the legislature passed harsh discriminatory laws directed against blacks. These so-called Black Codes represented an attempt by former slave owners (i.e., Florida Governor David S. Walker, who had been a slaveholder, a Whig and served in both houses of General Assembly and State Supreme Court when these prejudicial laws were put in place) to re-institute the slave market back into their system.
The theory of white supremacy would permeate statutory and constitutional law. By 1867 a series of Jim Crow Laws enacted would ensure that blacks would be subjugated to a status suggestive of social, if not completely legal and physical bondage.
Three north Florida ex-slave holders (C.H. Dupont, A.J. Peeler, and M.D. Papy) were appointed to the interim committee on Freedman's affairs and they prefaced their report to the General Assembly with a characterization of slavery as a benevolent institution. They defined it as the happiest and best-ever design for a laboring population and desired to preserve as much as possible the "good" qualities of slavery.
In 1866 the legislature authorized the Commissioner of Public Institutions to lease prisoners at their discretion. In 1869 the Freedman's Bureau referred 20 old and destitute negros to help at the Governor's Office, then to Chattahoochee prison for the rest of their lives. This was a common theme and was considered that the lucky ones would be beat and sent to prison for the rest of their lives (the unlucky ones would be hung).
In 1870 Governor Reed urged more prisoners to be leased and many blacks going before white southern judges received indefinite sentences to spend the rest of their lives in prison (life sentences). The white aristocratical society wanted their slaves back and could only do this by manipulating the laws.
The supremacy ideology was at risk of being stripped of its identity and by the negro becoming free, life as the upper class knew it was over. They would have to till their own ground and spend money on what use to be free labor. They would have to find a way to keep life as they know it and they would be bringing slavery back in the guise of "life sentences".
Not until 1885 when the righteous framers of the Florida Constitution attempt to curtail this egregious wrong by amending three evils:
a.) involuntary servitude/slavery without being duly convicted,
b.) indefinite imprisonment, and
c.) no fixed penalties for crimes that could distinguish the difference between felonies and misdemeanor.
Ever since 1885, Florida's Constitution has banned indefinite imprisonment and going against our Constitution would clearly be unlawful. A point expressed by the Florida District Court, "Certainly...the judicial system itself must follow and obey the law." Hayes v. State, 598 So. 2d 135, 138 (Fla. 5 DCA 1992).
The Court further noted that, "...an institution - the Judicial System - charged with the duty to punish illegal conduct must not, itself, be seen to engage in illegality." Sanders v. State, 698 So. 2d 377, 378 (Fla. 1 DCA 1977).
As the honorable Supreme Court Chief Justice Arthur J. England Jr. pointed out in his dictum in Alvarez at 14, "...moreover, if the net effect of a penal statute is to provide an indefinite term of imprisonment, the law is at odds with Article 1, Section 17 of our Florida Constitution."
STATE OF FLORIDA'S OWN ADMISSION
In Roberts v. State, 27 FLW D1539 (Fla. DCA 2002), "...a life sentence is indefinite, making one-third indeterminate."
In Kosek v. State, 448 So. 2d 57, 58 (Fla. DCA 1984), "Six one hundred year sentences are definite. The same cannot be said for a life sentence."
Florida Administrative Code 33-603.402(1)(a)5 states, "...if serving a sentence with no definite term, that is a life sentence."
By Florida Statutes being govern by legislative intent, and the Administrative Codes being governed by the statutes it is abundantly clear that the legislative intent was "indefinite imprisonment" when they established "life without the possibility of parole".
The premise of an indefinite Life sentence was to unjustly sentence a person to indentured servitude for the rest of their life. There is no consideration for rehabilitation or amenability to re-enter society for a person who has clearly shown change, growth and development to the degree that they would be an asset to any community within our society.
The Honorable Supreme Court Chief Justice Arthur J. England Jr. pointed to this fact in his dictum in Alvarez at 14,"...moreover, if the net effect of a penal statute is to provide an indefinite term of imprisonment, the law is at odds with Article 1, Section 17 of our Florida Constitution.
We, here at Society-First, invite those who have been impacted by this illegal archaic law to share their personal experience, solutions, or questions concerning this plight on our society. It matters not, whether you are a victim, an ex-offender, inmate, family member, church, correctional officer, or simply a citizen, you are an important piece to the solution that we seek.
Please provide any comments, testimonies, facts, or points that you want Society-First to look further into. Send us your story, or video gram by emailing us. Check the category that best fits the point of your concerns and/or comments. We look forward to hearing your feedback on what's important to Society-First.