Florida Is One of the Most Overincarcerated Places in U.S. Is It Likely to Change?

JACKSONVILLE, Fla. — Randy Ratledge doesn’t get out much.

Since he was arrested in 2012, Ratledge, 61, has a fear of the police. He doesn’t like leaving his home, and definitely doesn’t like coming downtown, where he was locked up for 117 days.

He faced 120 years in prison, and under the state’s minimum mandatory laws, a judge would have had no choice but to impose that sentence if he’d been convicted.

“I’m getting better,” Ratledge said in a tone of voice that suggests he’s trying to convince himself as much as other people. “I just went and visited my son, his wife and their child. I couldn’t have done that before.”

Ratledge is one of the many people who became caught up in the Florida criminal justice system and faced the possibility of a long, possibly lifelong, prison sentence.

Florida has one of the highest incarceration rates in the nation. And while many still defend the policies that creates those rates, there is a growing consensus that reform is needed.

There are nearly 100,000 people locked up, according to a 2018 study from the Crime and Justice Institute in Boston commissioned by the Florida Senate. Per capita, that means the state’s incarceration rate is 20 percent higher than the national average. And even though the crime rate has dropped in the last generation, the state’s long prison sentences and lack of parole keep a lot of people locked up.

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