Florida Lawmakers Want to Release Some Prisoners Early

Prison overcrowing is a huge problem in the United States today.  With this overcrowding, there is a move by some lawmakers for early release of non-violent prisoners and Florida is one of the states that is contemplating this move.

Florida has the third-largest prison system in the United States.  More than 100,000 inmates are housed in Florida correctional facilities.  The inmate population has doubled from 25 years ago when lawmakers passed a mandate requiring prisoners to serve at least 85 percent of their sentences.  Though legislators are rethinking that mandate, Governor Scott will have nothing to do with it.

Lawmaker democratic Representative Alan Williams is one of those who would like to change the 85 percent mandate.  He feels that for thousands of Floridians, a life of drug use has turned into a life behind bars.

“Florida has to be a state that shows compassion, especially for those individuals who have not committed a crime against another individual – they just have an issue, especially in a lot of cases dealing with drugs, that we have to try and figure out, ‘how can we rehabilitate them?’” Williams said.

Already this year, Governor Scott has vetoed a bill that would have allowed for prisoner early release.  Those non-violent inmates who had served at least half of their sentences could have been transferred to a drug treatment program.

Governor Scott is concerned that letting convicts out early might hurt public safety.  Critics of the bill point out that the program he killed could only have handled about 300 inmates.

Frank Messersmith with the Florida Sheriff’s Association, stated, “You’re not focusing enough on doing the things to stop the recidivism based on drug abuse.  You need to create the programs.  If only 20 percent of all the prisoners that are eligible can find this treatment, it does no good to have the program.”

Nevertheless, early release advocates aren’t giving up.  In 2013, they will be back with a new bill and by that time, they are hoping to win over Governor Scott.

Representative Williams said, “I think it’s up to the Governor to really dig deep into this bill.”

The prison system costs Florida taxpayers more than $2 billion a year.  In a 2010 report, governor office spokesman, Chad Colby, said, “Florida has nearly double the cost per prisoner of other states.”  Florida spends $71.93 per daily, whereas Texas spends $48.45, Louisiana $36.97, and Mississippi $36.97.

Governor Scott at that time wanted to reduce the cost of prisons by spending tax-dollars more wisely.  One way to reduce costs is to require inmates to grow food and competitively bid health care and other services.

These numbers, though, are sharply at odds with figures released by the Department of Corrections (DOC).  The DOC’s figures posted for the 2008-2009 fiscal year, put the per-diem cost at $52 per inmate.  This number does not include indirect and administrative costs, however.  These costs hinge on the size and type of institution and can range add up to approximately $5.00 to the per-diem figure.

The bill’s backers say by letting non-violent offenders out early, Florida could shave hundreds-of millions off the $2 billion spent on housing prisoners.  Of course, this will depend on how broad the effort is.

The senate passed the early release bill unanimously.  Four members of the republican-controlled state House voted ‘no’ on the bill.

The original articles can be read here and here.

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