Make us your home page
Instagram

Today’s top headlines delivered to you daily.

(View our Privacy Policy)

Jeff Brandes, Darryl Rouson agree that Florida's 'broken' criminal justice system needs to change

State Sen. Darryl Rouson (D) (on left), state Sen. Jeff Brandes (R) (in center) and Central Florida Urban League CEO Glen Gilzean on the panel during a discussion at the Suncoast Tiger Bay Club luncheon on the future of Florida's criminal justice system. DIRK SHADD   |   Times

State Sen. Darryl Rouson (D) (on left), state Sen. Jeff Brandes (R) (in center) and Central Florida Urban League CEO Glen Gilzean on the panel during a discussion at the Suncoast Tiger Bay Club luncheon on the future of Florida's criminal justice system. DIRK SHADD | Times

ST. PETERSBURG — In a room overlooking Tampa Bay, two politicians from opposing parties found common ground on Friday.

Despite a nationally divisive climate, state Sens. Jeff Brandes, R-St. Petersburg, and Darryl Rouson, D-St. Petersburg, agreed: Florida's criminal justice system needs to change.

"(Brandes) and I are diametrically opposed on many political philosophies," said Rouson to a crowd of about 40 at the St. Petersburg Yacht Club. But sitting side by side, they spoke about their combined efforts to push through reform of Florida's "broken" criminal justice system.

"Senator Brandes has become an ally in many respects," Rouson said.

The non-partisan Suncoast Tiger Bay Club hosted the discussion on the future of Florida's criminal justice system and what the two politicians were doing to change it. The panel consisted of Brandes, Rouson and Central Florida Urban League CEO Glen Gilzean. Sarasota Herald-Tribune investigative reporter Emily Le Coz, who reported on an investigation that revealed a racial disparity in sentencing, moderated the event.

During the hourlong discussion, the three panelists answered questions from the audience and Le Coz, who asked how they viewed the system and its fairness in sentencing.

"I have a biased viewpoint when it comes to sentencing and fairness," Rouson replied. "The good news is that judges bring their humanity to the courtroom. The bad news is that judges bring their humanity to the courtroom."

The disparity the Herald-Tribune reported on, which found blacks were given longer prison sentences than whites for the same crime, was nothing new, Rouson said. He added that he believes the majority of sentences handed down from judges are imposed rather than given.

Despite his and Brandes' efforts at reform in the most recent legislative session, Rouson said, their proposals failed. But they plan on trying again.

Brandes believes it's going to take a comprehensive review of the system to bring change. Everything from mental health services, to jails, to prisons and sentencing need to be improved.

"One constant theme is, nobody is saying, 'We got this one section right,' " he said. "It's not like we can just fix one little piece and leave the rest broken."

Gilzean said prevention and intervention are the two areas of importance, and through education, they can begin to repair the state's criminal justice system.

"If we don't resolve the educational crisis that we're faced with, and I use that word correctly, then how can we really resolve the criminal justice system?" he said.

Todd Jennings, president of the Tiger Bay Club, said the event was part of its effort to talk about issues that aren't just based on elections but to tackle other topics like foreign policy, immigration and gun legislation.

Plus, Jennings said: "Younger people want to see more substantive topics," and the club is looking to get more young professionals involved.

Jeff Brandes, Darryl Rouson agree that Florida's 'broken' criminal justice system needs to change 07/14/17 [Last modified: Friday, July 14, 2017 9:04pm]
Photo reprints | Article reprints

© 2017 Tampa Bay Times

    

Join the discussion: Click to view comments, add yours

Loading...
  1. Two-vehicle collision leaves driver dead, another with serious injuries

    Accidents

    SAN ANTONIO — A two-vehicle collision Tuesday morning in Pasco County left one person dead and another with serious injuries.

  2. Bob Graham says Trump appears to be pushing Jeff Sessions aside to get at Robert Mueller

    Blogs

    WASHINGTON - President Trump's attack on Attorney General Jeff Sessions is "unseemly" and without precedent, former Florida Sen. Bob Graham said this morning. 

    Former Sen. Bob Graham on CNN
  3. Innovocative Theatre company debuts with workmanlike production of 'Proof'

    Stage

    TAMPA — A new company debuts with Proof, David Auburn's Pulitzer-winning play. Innovocative Theatre, founded by Dunedin native Staci Sabarsky, is currently running productions out of Stageworks Theatre space. Sabarsky also directs and performs in the show.

    Dennis Duggan plays Robert Marie-Claude Tremblay plays Catherine in Innovocative Theatre's first production, Proof, by David Auburn. Photo courtesy of Staci Sabarsky.
  4. Largo company's bomb-detecting laser device shows promise in finding fentanyl

    Military

    A retired Green Beret who runs a Largo defense company that makes bomb-detecting equipment sees a new use for his laser-based technology: Detecting the dangerous opioid fentanyl from a distance to protect law enforcement personnel and help with prosecutions.

    Tim Molner with Alakai Defense Systems of Largo demonstrates how a company device uses laser technology to analyze chemical residue from a safe distance. [JIM DAMASKE   |   Times]
  5. Clearwater Beach driver: 'My intentions were to take my own life'

    News

    CLEARWATER — Ryan Michael Stiles stuck close to the dunes and blared his horn when he drove onto Clearwater Beach last Thursday afternoon. He didn't want to hurt anyone there, he said in an interview from the Pinellas County Jail on Tuesday morning.

    Ryan Michael Stiles, 27, was arrested last Thursday after driving onto the sands of Clearwater Beach, police said. He is currently being held at the Pinellas County Jail.