[UPDATE] Paying for Prisons

By: The News Service of Florida; Capitol News Email
By: The News Service of Florida; Capitol News Email

[UPDATE] 1-25 10:30AM --

Florida lawmakers turned to Texas on Monday for ideas on how to keep prisoners locked up at a time when the state faces a $3.6 billion budget deficit and cuts, including in the public safety budget, appear likely.

The scenario portrayed by the corrections officers’ union when then-candidate Rick Scott started talking about slashing $1 billion from the prisons budget doesn’t appear likely. The ad by the Florida Police Benevolent Association called Scott’s plans “law enforcement’s worst nightmare, and featured one released prisoner saying, “Let’s Get to Work.”

It’s not just the governor’s office that says that’s just not likely to play out.

“Politically, you’re not going to open the door and let them out,” Texas state Rep. Jerry Madden, R-Plano, told a panel of lawmakers who help write the Senate criminal justice budget and consider new measures related to law and order.

Senate Criminal Justice Appropriations Subcommittee Chairman Mike Fasano, R-New Port Richey, and Criminal Justice Committee Chairman Greg Evers held the first of several scheduled meetings to take ideas on how the justice system could be reformed to reduce costs.

Their first guest, though was not a public safety official from the Sunshine State, but Madden, the chair of the Texas House of Representatives Committee on Corrections who received national recognition for his work in reducing prison costs.

“You could do things that were smart and, by the way, didn’t cost as much,” Madden said.

Cutting down on the number of repeat offenders taking up beds is one obvious answer, he said. During his two hour presentation to lawmakers, Madden pressed the importance of spending money on treatment programs for inmates who, if treated for addiction, could be reintroduced to society and have safe, productive futures. The money was better spent on these people who could be rehabilitated, whom he referred to as “swingers,” because they could go either way, instead of inmates who are incredibly violent.

“Spend your money on the swingers,” Madden said.

Fasano has already told members of his committee to expect a difficult session that will likely involve some cuts to the criminal justice system.

Scott has given some hints, saying that waste and efficiency are big targets, for example.

The Senate also already has a bit of a plan that involves expanded use of drug courts, faith-based prison units and electronic monitoring of prisoners kept in the community, all suggested as possibilities in a recent study by legislative analysts. Other possibilities that have been mentioned include lessening drug penalties, and trying to divert more would-be prisoners to mental health treatment.

The problem, some lawmakers said, is that the state needs the savings now, not a few years down the road. The state’s justice system has taken a hit over the past several years, particularly in the court system.

Dockets are overcrowded and cases that once took one to three months, now take more like six to nine months.

In some criminal cases, public attorneys are handling more than the suggested caseload by American Bar Association, drawing questions about the adequacy of representation.

Evers said he thought Madden’s presentation gave lawmakers a great place to start the discussion on reform, but wouldn’t speculate on the efficacy of any one particular plan going forward, simply saying that the Senate would look at a “lot of these” and that it should not be seen as backing away from punishing criminals.

“I don’t that we’re actually going in a different direction,” he said. “I just think that our pocketbook can’t afford just locking everybody up.”

Future committee meetings will include presentations from the Department of Corrections and vendors for private prisons. His committee will also tour a prison, he said.

_______________________

Texas Representative Jerry Madden helped reform his state’s prison system. Madden showed Florida lawmakers in Tallahassee today how Texas reduced its prison population and saved money. Senator Mike Fasano is open to new ideas, but doesn’t want any policy changes to hinder progress the state has already made.

“We want to be very cautious here in Florida. We’ve worked very hard over the years in implementing tough legislation, tough crime legislation on those who commit crimes in the state. The 85 percent rule, three strikes and you’re out, 10/20 life; I don’t want to diminish anything that we’ve been successful doing. The crime rate is down in Florida, and I think a lot of it has to do with going after those who commit crimes and those who are repeat offenders,” said Fasano.

Some of Madden’s ideas to cut the 2.4 billion state tax dollars spent on prisons include reducing sentences for petty drug crimes and focus more resources on keeping released inmates from re-offending.


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Comments are posted from viewers like you and do not always reflect the views of this station.
  • by C.O Location: REDNECK CENTRAL on Jan 30, 2011 at 03:43 PM
    yall come on now... i do not believe that the justice system is fair, but downing the people that work in a correctional institution is not fair. we risk our lives everyday we walk through those gates. the only protection we have is our fellow officers and a can of gas. we house some the most violent offenders to the least. at the end of the day we deserve more credit that we are given. the budget cuts not only hurt the poor inmates but the officers as well.
  • by HMA on Jan 26, 2011 at 06:06 AM
    This is a problem. It is snowballing. Hopefully this guy can slow it down.
  • by Quest Location: Everywhere on Jan 25, 2011 at 05:46 PM
    As for the comment about all the anon postings being correctional staff, some probably are but we have no choice about posting as anon. We are not given the privilege or the right to talk specifics about our jobs in the media. We have staff approved to talk with the media and have to be careful about "representing the state of Florida." Our rights are limited in that aspect but we want the message to be clear. Like all jobs and employees, there are the good, the bad and the ugly. I would predict that a greater percentage of staff are dedicated, loyal and professional people. We are not ashamed of our profession but we are cautious, enough said.
  • by Quest Location: Everywhere on Jan 25, 2011 at 05:42 PM
    For the fools that think they know the system, check your facts before you post. All inmates are assigned jobs, would you like for sex offenders, mentally ill and medically incapable to be working in your ditch? No the poor Classification officer has to make a decision on who works where based on many facts from the inmates history. With over 100,000 inmates, do you seriously think they can all do something inside an insitution 24 hours a day? AS for saving money, the institutions are cut to the bone. Inmates are growing their own food, but due to wonderful BUSH privatization has screwed up the Department. As for the inmates working and making money for their stay, it is impossible, this was tried many years ago and corporate Florida had a fit. Due to the cheaper labore, their prices were undercut and it effected the bottom line and jobs for "free" people. Think before you speak or ask a valid question here and those of us who know will answer you with integrity and truth.
  • by Anonymous on Jan 25, 2011 at 04:21 PM
    Retiredtoo, I really like your idea, except that you only need 8 hours of sleep every day, so you could get 3 shifts in each day.
  • by The Truth on Jan 25, 2011 at 12:41 PM
    Ft---You don't even know what you are talking about. Classification does not assign inmates to dorms or quads this is a security task. When you have some first hand knowledge and know procedure and policy you can speak your mind!
  • by Kevin Location: Monticello on Jan 25, 2011 at 12:24 PM
    Heres how this is done. Like Texas , a Death sentence means exactly that. No more 1000 appeals that drain State budgets. 2. Out west , Courts dont buy new furniture ....its made free to the Courts by inmate workers. Savings again. 3. Put ALL non Maximum risk inmates to work (roads ditches , culverts etc. ) and charge them a nominal rent for clothing , food etc. Teach them how the Rest of us live (NOT FREE on the Taxpayers dime.) And charge a daily fee for monitored house arrest (even as Liberal as California is ...they do that) .
  • by JHBS on Jan 25, 2011 at 12:01 PM
    @ft nope, wrong AGAIN! I hear gates lock behind me everyday. When was the last time you went to prison for a day?
  • by full of ideas on Jan 25, 2011 at 11:55 AM
    Increase fines and decrease prison time for non-violent offenses. If someone steals, embezzles, or causes damage to property, they should be hit with an enormous fine...some as restitution to the victim and the rest to the prison system. Sort of an indentured servitude punishment. If they can't find a job or sell their assets, they can work for minimum wage sorting recyclables or cleaning up roads. If they get caught trying to cheat the system, they go to jail for a year, then start repaying their debt when they get out. If they cheat again, they go back to jail. I think the Shanna Lewis's of the state would rather flip burgers the rest of their life to pay off their debts than spend time in jail.
  • by Anonymous on Jan 25, 2011 at 11:30 AM
    Ft, Yas they have jobs, some of the grounds workers have a whole 100 square foot part of the yard of their very own to keep clean? This is the kind of jobs they have. Work 5 minutes a day, and spend the rest on the yard. The dorm men that clean the dorms are usually done in a couple of hours, but they prolong it because they can stay inside the dorm. I know that the kitchen work is harder, and requires longer hours, but many of the inmates want this job just so they have access to extra food (which they take back to the dorm). I would like them to have productive jobs that let them add to the economy instead of being a drain on the economy.
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