Cost of Florida Prisons: Too Many In Prison Too Long

Posted: November 1, 2011 in News and politics

If Gov. Rick Scott and Florida legislative leaders would get over their
obsession with privatizing prisons, perhaps they might focus on the real cause
of Florida’s runaway correction spending.

This state locks too many people up for too long.

A succession of “get tough on crime” mandatory minimum sentencing laws are
primarily responsible for a state incarceration rate that is 26 percent higher
than the national average.

An Associated Press report this month cited the case of a man serving a
mandatory five-year prison sentence for possession of a handful of Lortab
tablets, “prescription-only pills containing a small amount of a controlled
substance but mostly made up of the same ingredient found in Tylenol and similar
over-the-counter painkillers.”

“Florida’s prison system, which has about 102,000 inmates, grew more than
11-fold from 1970 through 2009, while the state’s population increased just
under three times,” The AP reported. “Florida also has done away with parole and
requires inmates to serve a minimum of 85 percent of their sentences, which have
kept inmates behind bars longer.”

CRIME DOWN, COST UP

Thus, Florida’s corrections spending continues to escalate even as crime
rates decline.

Citing data from “Right on Crime,” a prison reform group that advocates doing
away with mandatory minimum sentences and relying more on drug courts and
substance abuse treatment for offenders, The AP report continued, “If Florida
imprisoned people at the same rate it did in 1972-1973 the state would have only
23,848 inmates and be spending $446 million a year on prisons instead of $2.4
billion.”

Privatizing prisons simply injects a profit motive into what Alison DeFoor,
vice chair of the Center for Smart Justice, in Tallahassee, already calls
Florida’s “prison-industrial complex.”

Real correction reform would involve locking up fewer people, not creating
new profit opportunities for the private sector at taxpayers’ expense.

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