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Opinion: Habitual Offenders Belong Behind Bars

Opinion: Habitual Offenders Belong Behind Bars

According to statistics maintained by the Florida Department of Corrections, the Fifth Judicial Circuit ranks third in the state for the total number of Habitual Felony Offenders sent to prison. What that says to me is that our office is doing its job and doing it well.

According to the Florida Department of Corrections, the Fifth Judicial Circuit put 269 Habitual Felony Offenders behind bars in the 2019-2020 fiscal year. A Habitual Felony Offender is an individual who has been convicted of at least two prior felonies and was then charged with another felony that was committed within 5 years of the sentence on the last prior felony. A State Attorney has discretion to invoke the statute to designate an individual as a Habitual Felony Offender. The designation doubles the amount of prison that a judge can sentence an offender to upon conviction.

When I took office in January of this year, I established the following mission for my office:

to promote public safety by enforcing the criminal laws of the state of Florida; to protect and defend the constitution and the bill of rights; to hold those who violate our laws accountable; to ensure that victims of crime have a voice in the criminal justice system; and to be good stewards of tax payer money.

I recognize that holding someone accountable doesn’t always mean we send them to prison. Often, my office refers non-violent, low-level offenders into diversionary programs like veteran’s court, mental health court, pre-trial intervention or drug court where they are held accountable but still afforded a second chance.

The Florida Legislature created the Habitual Felony Offender statute, and other similar designations, because a substantial and disproportionate number of serious crimes are committed by a relatively small number of repeat offenders. In fact, according to the Florida Sheriff’s Research Institute, repeat offenders account for 95% of the total population of Florida’s prisons. Therefore, I cannot escape the conclusion that sending the right offenders to prison, in some cases for a very long time, makes us all safer.

It is an honor and privilege to serve as your State Attorney. I am entrusted with the discretion to invoke statutes that put criminals away for a long time, and I take that responsibility very seriously. Trust me when I say that if an individual is sentenced as a Habitual Felony Offender, they have earned that classification based on a life’s work of criminal activity.  I feel strongly that repeat offenders and violent criminals belong in prison and I am proud of the work that our team does to put them there.

Sincerely,

Bill Gladson, State Attorney


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