Charlie Crist’s Justice Reform Efforts Show Policy Switch Since ‘Chain Gang Charlie’


Earlier this week, Florida Congressman and gubernatorial candidate Charlie Crist (D-FL-13) announced his new campaign initiative entitled “Justice for All,” but Crist was once known in Florida as “Chain Gang Charlie.”

Prior to becoming a Democrat, Crist was an Independent, and before that he was Florida’s one-term Republican governor from 2007-2011. He also served in the Florida Legislature as a Republican and in different executive positions during Jeb Bush’s tenure as governor.

Crist’s policy position switches have garnered much attention among progressive and conservative circles, and most recently, Floridians have been reminded of the “Chain Gang Charlie” moniker as he re-brands himself as a progressive.

Politifact Florida noted during Crist’s campaign efforts in 2016, that when Crist was a state senator in 1995 he sponsored legislation to bring back chain gang work crews. The chain gang crews had been outlawed in Florida for nearly 50 years. Crist also penned an op-ed in the Orlando Sentinel advocating for his chain gang legislation entitled “No Ambiguity: Shackle Chain-Gang Inmates Together.”

“The language is very clear; there is no ambiguity.

The words of the amendment dictate that inmates not only wear leg irons and work in groups, but wear leg irons and work in chain-gang work groups.”

Crist continued to say in his op-ed that chain gangs in public view would act as a deterrent for others.

“I believe that convicted criminals should work and pay their debt to society. They should work on the sides of our highways and byways in visible locations where would-be criminals can see the consequences of committing crime; this would act as a deterrent.”

At the time, Crist traveled to Alabama, with then-Secretary of Corrections Harry Singletary, to observe the chain gangs in action, and Crist responded with a desire to bring a similar program to Florida.

Now, Crist is a Democrat and his position is that previous attempts at justice have been too narrowly focused on incarceration.

“For too long we have focused on incarceration when we should be focusing on rehabilitation, forgiveness and restoring and rebuilding,” Crist said.

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Grant Holcomb is a reporter at the Florida Capital Star and The Star News Network. Follow Grant on Twitter and direct message tips.
Photo “Charlie Crist” by Congressman Charlie Crist. Background Photo “Florida Capitol” by Carol Highsmith.





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