Newspaper article The Florida Times Union

Florida's Prisons Waste Money, Lives

Newspaper article The Florida Times Union

Florida's Prisons Waste Money, Lives

Article excerpt

The first of an occasional series on criminal justice and prison reform:

Wasting money, wasting lives - that's the motto of Florida's prison system. Oh, it's not official, but it's the reality.

Florida's refusal to attack its criminal justice problems has enshrined us in the backwater of prison reform despite numerous indications that Gov. Rick Scott would address these concerns.

Florida spends too much money, rehabilitates too few prisoners and leaves its citizens no safer than other states like Texas and Georgia that have instituted common-sense reforms.

"There's no state plan to do anything, and the status quo is leaving us even further behind," says Deborrah Brodsky of the Project on Accountable Justice. "This state simply overrelies on things that don't work."

Although some changes have been made in the six years since Scott took office, there has been little comprehensive reform. That's surprising to prison reform advocates who initially thought the new governor was a staunch advocate.

Scott had commissioned a 263-page transition report from a team of hand-picked experts on the Department of Corrections before he took office in 2011.

When negotiating his first budget, the governor did make fiscal changes to make the Department of Corrections more efficient in his incoming budget. Advocates believed he would follow through by enacting the kinds of reforms that had reduced prison budgets in other states.

Instead, the governor's first budget showed not reforms but the elimination of 1,690 Department of Corrections jobs - including 619 corrections officers - the closure of two prisons and transferring 1,500 inmates to private facilities.

Since then, he has since refused to embrace reform in the adult prisons, although he has made substantial positive changes within the juvenile system.

NEARBY REFORMS IN GEORGIA

That inaction puts us behind other states that are finding their ways out of the unworkable approaches and prison overcrowding that characterized America's late-century tough-on-crime attitude.

Even within conservative states, such as Texas and Georgia, lawmakers have begun to change their prison systems.

These states concluded that handing out lengthy sentences and imprisoning massive numbers of people doesn't make sense. Adopting a more modern approach is beginning to save these states money by decreasing prison populations.

Yet Florida still clings to many of the out-of-date criminal justice practices that have proven ineffective, costly and brutish.

REFORMS NEEDED NOW

There are many proven changes Florida must make to reverse its course. These range from revisiting how the courts sentence people for drugs to how juveniles are treated in the system.

Marc Levin, the director of the Center for Effective Justice in Texas, told the Times-Union editorial board his state has already made strides in reforming the Lone Star state's system. …

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