Excessive Incarceration: Time And Money

Posted: June 19, 2012 in News and politics

When Gov. Rick Scott vetoed legislation this year that would have reduced prison time for some nonviolent offenders, he explained that justice “is not served when a criminal is permitted to be released early from a sentence imposed by the courts.”

Whether justice is served by early release is debatable. But taxpayers surely are not well served by Florida’s continued, costly emphasis on incarceration.

A new study by the nonprofit Pew Center on the States compared incarceration rates in 35 states and determined that longer-than-average sentences and the incarceration of nonviolent offenders cost Florida taxpayers an additional $1.4 billion in correctional costs in 2009 alone.

From 1990 to 2009, the average time prisoners spent behind bars in Florida increased 166 percent, by far the steepest jump in time served among the 35 states studied.

For drug offenders in Florida, the average time served increased 194 percent.

“Florida does stick out like a sore thumb,” Adam Gelb, director of Pew’s Public Safety Performance Project, told The Tampa Tribune. “Florida right now is surrounded by states that are typically more conservative on these issues that have taken dramatic steps to rein in their sentencing and corrections costs.”

 

INFLEXIBILITY

What’s driving Florida’s soaring correctional budget is not so much rising crime rates as it is the inflexibility of state minimum-mandatory sentencing laws, punitive drug laws and a requirement that inmates serve at least 85 percent of their sentenced time before being eligible for release.

While lawmakers have been forced to cut billions of dollars from education, health care and other vital programs, they have been loath to tackle sentencing reform and community-based alternatives to incarceration for fear of being branded “soft on crime.”

Gov. Scott seems to believe that privatization is the answer to Florida’s soaring correctional costs. It is not. The answer, rather, is to reserve expensive cell space for only those dangerous inmates who really need to be locked away from society.

In short, too many inmates are doing needless time and costing Florida taxpayers too much money.

<!–When Gov. Rick Scott vetoed legislation this year that would have reduced prison time for some nonviolent offenders, he explained that justice "is not served when a criminal is permitted to be released early from a sentence imposed by the courts."

Whether justice is served by early release is debatable. But taxpayers surely are not well served by Florida's continued, costly emphasis on incarceration.

A new study by the nonprofit Pew Center on the States compared incarceration rates in 35 states and determined that longer-than-average sentences and the incarceration of nonviolent offenders cost Florida taxpayers an additional $1.4 billion in correctional costs in 2009 alone.

From 1990 to 2009, the average time prisoners spent behind bars in Florida increased 166 percent, by far the steepest jump in time served among the 35 states studied.

For drug offenders in Florida, the average time served increased 194 percent.

"Florida does stick out like a sore thumb," Adam Gelb, director of Pew's Public Safety Performance Project, told The Tampa Tribune. "Florida right now is surrounded by states that are typically more conservative on these issues that have taken dramatic steps to rein in their sentencing and corrections costs."

 

INFLEXIBILITY

What’s driving Florida’s soaring correctional budget is not so much rising crime rates as it is the inflexibility of state minimum-mandatory sentencing laws, punitive drug laws and a requirement that inmates serve at least 85 percent of their sentenced time before being eligible for release.

While lawmakers have been forced to cut billions of dollars from education, health care and other vital programs, they have been loath to tackle sentencing reform and community-based alternatives to incarceration for fear of being branded “soft on crime.”

Gov. Scott seems to believe that privatization is the answer to Florida’s soaring correctional costs. It is not. The answer, rather, is to reserve expensive cell space for only those dangerous inmates who really need to be locked away from society.

In short, too many inmates are doing needless time and costing Florida taxpayers too much money.

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