Prison Reductions: Act Wisely on Crime

Posted: February 20, 2011 in News and politics
Printed on page A10

[ EDITORIAL ]

Prison Reductions: Act Wisely on Crime

Published: Wednesday, February 16, 2011 at 12:01 a.m.

Voters apparently weren’t scared off by TV campaign spots warning that Rick Scott would let dangerous criminals out of prison. They elected him governor anyway.

So Gov. Scott’s proposal to cut $82 million from the Department of Corrections’ budget — closing two prisons and eliminating 1,690 jobs — isn’t likely to strike fear in the hearts of Floridians either. The DOC can and should be downsized, but it should be done with smart criminal-justice reforms, not just a budget ax.

Start with sentencing reform. Minimum-mandatory sentences force cookie-cutter penalties in cases in which judicial discretion and judgment are more appropriate. That is especially true in drug cases.

“Florida’s mandatory-minimum drug laws are among the harshest in the country, requiring courts to impose ‘one-size-fits-all’ sentences on drug offenders, regardless of their role in the offense, need for treatment, or prior criminal record,” says Greg Newburn, director of Families Against Mandatory Minimums. “These mandatory minimums are major contributors to overflowing state prisons and our state’s budget crisis.”

PAROLE, DRUG COURTS

Reinstating parole ought to be another no-brainer. Support of drug courts — which seek to divert nonviolent offenders from incarceration — and funding for substance-abuse and mental health treatment would also help keep offenders out of expensive incarceration.

“On average, it costs between $950 and $2,500 per year to provide treatment to offenders through Florida drug courts, which have also been found to significantly reduce recidivism rates,” according to FAMM.

Reducing the corrections budget isn’t just a matter of throwing open cell doors. The hard part is deciding which offenders are dangerous enough to warrant incarceration and which can be safely channeled into community-based treatment and supervision programs.

It’s easy for politicians to be tough on crime. Getting smart on crime is more difficult but ultimately it is more-cost-effective and better serves the cause of justice.
This story appeared in print on page A10 

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