Prison near Polk City could Reopen by Eric Pera

Posted: November 9, 2013 in News and politics

POLK CITY | Demilly Correctional Institution near Polk City, shuttered in July 2012 as part of a statewide belt-tightening, is one of nine facilities that could potentially reopen next year in light of an expected rise in Florida’s prison population.

Last year’s closures were the result of a decline in prison admissions, but projections from the state Criminal Justice Estimating Conference show new admissions are on the rise despite a downward trend in crime.

Included in the Department of Corrections’ 2014-15 budget request is nearly $57 million to prepare for a projected increase of more than 1,000 inmates. The request was presented Wednesday at a public hearing in Tallahassee by DOC budget director Mark Tallent.

“Based on those numbers the department has proposed that we need additional dollars to meet those projections,” said DOC spokeswoman Misty Cash. “If for some reason those numbers don’t go up then we might not need the extra money.”

The targeted facilities include five work camps, two re-entry centers and two prisons, one in Raiford and the Demilly facility, according to the Tampa Bay Times. Based on its July projections, conferees warn of an increase in admissions of 2.7 percent next year and 1.4 percent the following year.

The prison population at the end of June was 100,884.

State Rep. Neil Combee, R-Polk City, whose district includes the Demilly site, said he had not heard of the new estimates, but that he intends to look into why more beds are being filled in the face of declining crime statistics.

“It’ll make you scratch your head if crime’s going down,” he said.

In its summary report, the estimating conference said the number of index offenses decreased in 2012 by 43,536 (down 5.7%) from the 2011 level of 769,480. The 725,944 index crimes reported in 2012 was lower than reported in any year since 1983.

“This is the fourth year in a row in which index offenses declined after three years of increases,” the report said.

Violent offenses decreased by 4.3 percent in 2012. Those offenses, which include murder, forcible sexual offenses, robbery, and aggravated assault, were 12.9 percent of all index offenses in 2012, up from 12.8 percent in 2011.

At the time of its closure, the Demilly facility had a staff of 118 and a capacity for 342 inmates. It was established in 2008 to prepare inmates for work release.

The nearby Polk Correctional Institution, which has room for 1,200 inmates, remains open.

Gov. Rick Scott, who’s seeking re-election in 2014, recently asked state agencies to cut spending by $100 million, but the prison system alone wants $124 million more next year, including money for more officers, new buses and vans, the food service system and an electronic timekeeping system.

The sudden shift is reviving the debate over whether Florida locks up too many nonviolent drug offenders who should get treatment, not just punishment. Florida has the nation’s third-largest prison system and spends about $18,000 a year on average to house each of its inmates. Nearly three of every 10 inmates are back behind bars within three years.

”They’re not getting treatment. They’re being housed, and I don’t know how smart that is,” said Sen. Rob Bradley, R-Fleming Island, at a recent hearing of the committee he chairs, which oversees the prison system’s $2.4 billion budget.

”This is the perfect opportunity for us to re-engineer our criminal sentencing laws and save money at the same time,” said Sen. Jeff Clemens, D-Lake Worth, also a member of the Senate budget committee overseeing prisons. ”We need to have a real conversation about who we’re putting in prison and whether that’s best for the state.”

Across the country, bipartisan support has been building for a concept known as ”smart justice,” which includes putting fewer nonviolent offenders in prison, improving re-entry and probation programs, and teaching inmates skills so they can acquire jobs.

At Florida State University’s Project for Accountable Justice, researcher Deborrah Brodsky said Florida should follow the example of Georgia, whose conservative Republican leaders have embraced the ”smart justice” concept.

”Other very conservative states have shown that you can choose different paths,” said Allison deFoor, a former Monroe County sheriff and judge and chairman of the FSU project’s board.

Moreover, they say, the prison system should become more strategic, like Florida’s Department of Juvenile Justice, which stresses prevention, diversion and intervention with families instead of incarceration.

But talk of modifying Florida’s sentencing laws is an especially tough sell in an election year when most lawmakers will make traditional appeals to voters that they are tough on crime.

A study released last year by the Pew Center on the States found that the average offender spent 166 percent more time in prison in 2009 than in 1990 and that nonviolent drug offenders served 194 percent more time — a bigger increase than any other state at an annual cost to Florida taxpayers of about $1.4 billion.

In its budget request for next year, the Florida prison system is seeking $56.8 million to hire 862 workers by June. That would undercut Scott’s emphasis on steadily cutting the size of the state workforce.

Scott must decide whether to include the request to reopen the prisons and work camps in the election-year budget he’ll send to the Legislature in February.

[ Information from the Tampa Bay Times was used in this report. Eric Pera can be reached at eric.pera@theledger.com or 863-802-7528. ]

<!–POLK CITY | Demilly Correctional Institution near Polk City, shuttered in July 2012 as part of a statewide belt-tightening, is one of nine facilities that could potentially reopen next year in light of an expected rise in Florida's prison population. Last year's closures were the result of a decline in prison admissions, but projections from the state Criminal Justice Estimating Conference show new admissions are on the rise despite a downward trend in crime. Included in the Department of Corrections' 2014-15 budget request is nearly $57 million to prepare for a projected increase of more than 1,000 inmates. The request was presented Wednesday at a public hearing in Tallahassee by DOC budget director Mark Tallent. "Based on those numbers the department has proposed that we need additional dollars to meet those projections," said DOC spokeswoman Misty Cash. "If for some reason those numbers don't go up then we might not need the extra money." The targeted facilities include five work camps, two re-entry centers and two prisons, one in Raiford and the Demilly facility, according to the Tampa Bay Times. Based on its July projections, conferees warn of an increase in admissions of 2.7 percent next year and 1.4 percent the following year. The prison population at the end of June was 100,884. State Rep. Neil Combee, R-Polk City, whose district includes the Demilly site, said he had not heard of the new estimates, but that he intends to look into why more beds are being filled in the face of declining crime statistics. "It'll make you scratch your head if crime's going down," he said. In its summary report, the estimating conference said the number of index offenses decreased in 2012 by 43,536 (down 5.7%) from the 2011 level of 769,480. The 725,944 index crimes reported in 2012 was lower than reported in any year since 1983. "This is the fourth year in a row in which index offenses declined after three years of increases," the report said. Violent offenses decreased by 4.3 percent in 2012. Those offenses, which include murder, forcible sexual offenses, robbery, and aggravated assault, were 12.9 percent of all index offenses in 2012, up from 12.8 percent in 2011. At the time of its closure, the Demilly facility had a staff of 118 and a capacity for 342 inmates. It was established in 2008 to prepare inmates for work release. The nearby Polk Correctional Institution, which has room for 1,200 inmates, remains open. Gov. Rick Scott, who's seeking re-election in 2014, recently asked state agencies to cut spending by $100 million, but the prison system alone wants $124 million more next year, including money for more officers, new buses and vans, the food service system and an electronic timekeeping system. The sudden shift is reviving the debate over whether Florida locks up too many nonviolent drug offenders who should get treatment, not just punishment. Florida has the nation's third-largest prison system and spends about $18,000 a year on average to house each of its inmates. Nearly three of every 10 inmates are back behind bars within three years. ''They're not getting treatment. They're being housed, and I don't know how smart that is," said Sen. Rob Bradley, R-Fleming Island, at a recent hearing of the committee he chairs, which oversees the prison system's $2.4 billion budget. ''This is the perfect opportunity for us to re-engineer our criminal sentencing laws and save money at the same time," said Sen. Jeff Clemens, D-Lake Worth, also a member of the Senate budget committee overseeing prisons. ''We need to have a real conversation about who we're putting in prison and whether that's best for the state." Across the country, bipartisan support has been building for a concept known as ''smart justice," which includes putting fewer nonviolent offenders in prison, improving re-entry and probation programs, and teaching inmates skills so they can acquire jobs. At Florida State University's Project for Accountable Justice, researcher Deborrah Brodsky said Florida should follow the example of Georgia, whose conservative Republican leaders have embraced the ''smart justice" concept. ''Other very conservative states have shown that you can choose different paths," said Allison deFoor, a former Monroe County sheriff and judge and chairman of the FSU project's board. Moreover, they say, the prison system should become more strategic, like Florida's Department of Juvenile Justice, which stresses prevention, diversion and intervention with families instead of incarceration. But talk of modifying Florida's sentencing laws is an especially tough sell in an election year when most lawmakers will make traditional appeals to voters that they are tough on crime. A study released last year by the Pew Center on the States found that the average offender spent 166 percent more time in prison in 2009 than in 1990 and that nonviolent drug offenders served 194 percent more time — a bigger increase than any other state at an annual cost to Florida taxpayers of about $1.4 billion. In its budget request for next year, the Florida prison system is seeking $56.8 million to hire 862 workers by June. That would undercut Scott's emphasis on steadily cutting the size of the state workforce. Scott must decide whether to include the request to reopen the prisons and work camps in the election-year budget he'll send to the Legislature in February.

[ Information from the Tampa Bay Times was used in this report. Eric Pera can be reached at eric.pera@theledger.com or 863-802-7528. ]

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