Prisons Aren't Working, So Let's Expand Drug Court

Article excerpt

Byline: TONYAA WEATHERSBEE

State Attorney Angela Corey has a point.

Some of the offenders who were recommended for post-conviction drug court might have been more likely to use their freedom to wreak mayhem than seriously work on curing their drug habit.

She's also right about it being the state's duty to protect the public.

Yet, it's disturbing that politics and personalities reverberating between Corey, Court Administrator Joe Stelma and Chief Circuit Judge Donald Moran may have conspired to deny drug offenders a chance to clean up their act through a post-conviction drug court - a dispute that led to it being shut down after court officials lost a $1.4 million grant to fund it.

More disturbing is the fact that some prosecutors in Corey's office cling to the notion that Florida ought to build more prisons instead of rehabilitating drug offenders.

Florida is facing a $3 billion shortfall.

Prisons consume 11 percent of the general fund.

Already, more than 100,000 people are locked up at the cost of more than $20,000 per person per year.

This makes no sense - especially when drug courts are showing signs of promise in stopping drug abusers from offending again.

And the prison experiment has been going on for more than 25 years.

According to e-mails obtained by The Times-Union under Florida's public records law, when drug court coordinator Kelly Zarle wrote in January that it is more costly to incarcerate drug offenders "only for them to come out and re-offend," Sandra Rosendale, an assistant state attorney, replied: "I disagree with you, all due respect, but I think they should just build more prisons ... at least if they are incarcerated, people's lives will be saved ..."

Rosendale's answer - more prisons to lock up more people - is one reason why Corey's office can't find many drug offenders suitable for post-conviction drug court.

That's probably because many of those offenders, who are known as "mature drug users," received jail or prison time instead of rehabilitation a long time ago. …