Newspaper article The Florida Times Union

A New Approach Needed for Prisons

Newspaper article The Florida Times Union

A New Approach Needed for Prisons

Article excerpt

Byline: Barney Bishop

There are many reasons the Legislature should embrace Smart Justice legislation, including significant benefits to public safety.

But as the House and Senate get down to the nitty-gritty of adopting a final budget, there is an even more compelling reason: money. A lot of it.

The Florida Department of Corrections is working hard to eliminate a budget deficit that swelled to more than $95 million earlier this year. The Legislature and taxpayers have an obvious desire to reduce DOC spending without jeopardizing public safety.

SAVE TAXPAYER DOLLARS

One area ripe for savings seems obvious to the Florida Smart Justice Alliance: recidivism. Simply put, the state is spending entirely too much money incarcerating the same people over and over without doing enough to make sure that once they get out, they stay out.

How much is too much? Taxpayers are spending more than a quarter-billion dollars a year to incarcerate more than 14,000 "new" inmates who had been in prison at least once before.

Overall, almost half of the prison population is made up of repeat offenders, at a yearly cost of $799.5 million.

This is a big part of Florida's corrections problem: We aren't correcting inmates. In most cases we are just incarcerating them.

We can't afford to do that anymore without providing treatment for underlying issues (so often, substance abuse or mental health issues) and educational/vocational services to help them live law-abiding lives once they are released.

Statistics tell us that when a previous felon is caught again, he has probably committed more than just the single crime that led to this most recent arrest. If the offender has a substance abuse issue, it's likely there are numerous crime victims whose homes or cars were broken into to help fuel his drug habit.

Why would we allow that to happen? We know these inmates have addictions, and we had them in our prisons for years yet in most cases we did nothing to help them address their addictions. …

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