Charlie Crist is running as the Democratic nominee for Florida Governor, but his campaign strategy avoids any mention of the most significant legislation he sponsored when he was in the state senate. In 1995, Crist (then a Republican) sponsored the 85 percent law, which successfully passed and is still in effect today. The 85 percent law requires all imprisoned criminals to at least serve 85 percent of their prison sentence term — no matter the charge.
Almost two decades later, it appears that Crist wants to sweep this accomplishment under the rug, now that he’s running as a Democrat. Darryl Paulson, professor emeritus at the University of South Florida St. Petersburg referenced the law and Crist, stating, “It does seem very peculiar that the one thing he is best known for and has pushed more than anything else in terms of public policy is the one thing you hear virtually nothing about in the current campaign for governor.” Paulson, a Republican, knows Crist and would often invite Crist to speak at his classes.
Ironically enough, the 85 percent law has become a “campaign promise” in Gov. Rick Scott’s strategy. Republican Gov. Rick Scott even stresses the importance of the law on his campaign website, which states that the Gov. will continue to “protect Florida’s 85 percent rule”. What seems to remain absent everywhere is the acknowledgment of Crist’s 1995 efforts in sponsoring the law.
When asked about the law, Crist stated, “I think it’s a good policy,” but he did say that he may “revisit” it as governor because the law may be a bit broad and inclusive — especially when it comes to those who have committed nonviolent crimes. This switch in idea could mean that Crist has actually changed his views on the law since it’s conception, but some believe that Crist will say anything to get elected. It’s plausible that Crist’s views on the law could have changed because both crime and the justice system are much different now than they were in the 1990s.
Two decades ago, Florida lacked prison space. Because of this, prisoners would most likely serve, at times, less than one third of their prison terms. This practice failed miserably – some violent inmates were let out years before the end of their prison sentence, only to commit similarly violent crimes. Likewise, the criminal justice system lost all credibility — a sentence of 18 years really meant five.
Whatever the case, it’s clear that Crist doesn’t want to talk about the 85 percent law, and the incumbent, Scott, strongly stands behind the law that his opponent helped make legislation.