Tuesday, April 24, 2018
Politics

Steve Bousquet: Florida's prisoners get little help once released

Every single day all over Florida, the heavy steel doors of a prison swing open and an inmate walks free after completing a sentence.

As many as 100 are set free each day. They swear they will never be back, but many do return.

Part of the problem is that Florida does almost nothing to help ex-offenders re-enter the real world.

So, many of them get trapped in a desperate spiral that leads to more crime and more prison time — at a huge cost to taxpayers.

The revolving door of recidivism trumps re-entry.

An ex-offender gets $50, a change of clothes and a one-way bus fare back to the place where he was sentenced, and many lack the one item that's indispensable in the real world: a photo ID.

Without an ID, it's impossible to apply for a job or even to put that $50 in the bank.

In the spring legislative session, some lawmakers wanted to require the state to track down inmates' birth certificates so they can get IDs. It's an enormous task because nearly half of our inmates are from other states.

"It's a huge problem for us," Corrections Secretary Mike Crews says.

The bill (HB 7121) passed the House but died in the Senate, as the subject of inmate re-entry got swept up in a broader debate over how to expand programs to help some inmates prepare for life on the outside. (A similar bill passed last year, and Gov. Rick Scott vetoed it.)

Advocates calling themselves the Smart Justice Alliance proposed that certain nonviolent offenders in the last three years of their terms — many of them drug abusers — get treatment and skills to make them more productive citizens, to reduce recidivism and its costs.

The alliance says it is not seeking more lenient sentencing laws, just smarter strategies.

The leader of the alliance is lobbyist Barney Bishop, whose clients include Bridges of America, a firm that operates inmate re-entry programs. Bishop was up front about that, but it rankled the chairman of the House Criminal Justice Committee, Rep. Matt Gaetz of Fort Walton Beach.

"Smart justice?" Gaetz said. "It's just a group of vendors in $3,000 suits, wondering how to make money by getting people out of jail and into their programs. … I'm not in any hurry to speed up people getting out of jail."

Gaetz, the son of Senate President Don Gaetz, R-Niceville, notes that violent crime has been trending downward in Florida for decades, and it's because Florida sentencing laws are working.

The "smart justice" idea is getting traction in Texas, Georgia and elsewhere, but not here, even though a major proponent is Rep. Dennis Baxley, R-Ocala, who's among the Legislature's most conservative members.

Baxley said he'll try again next year to help ex-inmates get state IDs. He calls it a small thing that could make a big difference in a lot of lives.

Next year is an election year, when no lawmaker wants to be accused of being "soft on crime," but Baxley will keep trying.

"Any time you want transformative change, it's going to be difficult," Baxley said. "It's the Department of Corrections, not the 'Department of Incarceration.' We've got to do more than just incarcerate people."

Contact Steve Bousquet at [email protected] or (850) 224-7263.

Comments

Sean Hannity, a Trump defender, under scrutiny for real estate deals

Atlanta Journal-Constitution (TNS)ATLANTA — On his Fox News program last summer, Sean Hannity effused praise for his guest, U.S. Housing Secretary Ben Carson. "I know you have done a good job," Hannity said. "You are a good man."Carson’s presence gav...
Published: 04/23/18
Having Cuba in the name of your company can be a financial risk and there is no solution

Having Cuba in the name of your company can be a financial risk and there is no solution

With the third largest Cuban American population, Cuba’s culture is celebrated throughout the Tampa Bay area and in a diversity of ways.Flags hang in homes, fashion is worn, music performed, food served.But be wary of honoring that heritage by puttin...
Published: 04/23/18
Trump says he doesn’t think personal lawyer will ‘flip’

Trump says he doesn’t think personal lawyer will ‘flip’

WEST PALM BEACH — President Donald Trump said Saturday that he doesn’t expect Michael Cohen, his longtime personal lawyer and fixer, to "flip" as the government investigates Cohen’s business dealings. Trump, in a series of tweets fired from Florida o...
Published: 04/21/18

Vive la France: Trump hosts glitzy White House state dinner

WASHINGTON — Now it’s President Donald Trump’s turn to pull off the ultimate charm offensive. Wined and dined on multiple state visits during his tour of Asia last year, Trump is paying it forward and celebrating nearly 250 years of U.S.-French relat...
Published: 04/21/18
Romano: Okay, now who sounds like a hysterical teen talking about guns?

Romano: Okay, now who sounds like a hysterical teen talking about guns?

The writer of the letter sounds hysterical. Perhaps a little desperate. And maybe that’s just who Marion Hammer is these days.Most of the world knows her as the take-no-prisoners maven of the National Rifle Association who directs Florida politicians...
Published: 04/21/18
Rick Scott’s term limits idea: Hugely popular and highly unrealistic

Rick Scott’s term limits idea: Hugely popular and highly unrealistic

WASHINGTON — Gov. Rick Scott’s first policy idea as a U.S. Senate candidate won’t happen and most of his fellow Republicans don’t support it.But it’s a surefire applause line at political rallies.Scott wants term limits for members of Congress: 12 ye...
Published: 04/23/18
Ex-FBI deputy director ‘disappointed’ in Comey comments

Ex-FBI deputy director ‘disappointed’ in Comey comments

WASHINGTON — Andrew McCabe, the former FBI deputy director, is "very upset and disappointed" by comments made by his former boss James Comey that contradict his account of a disclosure to the news media, McCabe’s lawyer said Friday. "Andy has at all ...
Published: 04/20/18
Carlton: Mayor’s race: plot twists, meteoric rises, candidate implosions. It’s what we do in Tampa.

Carlton: Mayor’s race: plot twists, meteoric rises, candidate implosions. It’s what we do in Tampa.

The one thing you can say for sure about electing a mayor in Tampa is you can’t really say anything for sure.Historical proof: A couple of elections ago, Harvard-educated hometown-boy-gone-to-Washington Frank Sanchez was going to be our next mayor, h...
Published: 04/20/18
Carlton: Kids, want to make them listen? Vote

Carlton: Kids, want to make them listen? Vote

Today across America, high school students are expected to walk out of class in their latest show of solidarity against gun violence and elected officials unwilling to do much about it. It marks a grim anniversary — 19 years since Columbine bra...
Published: 04/20/18
Castor ends speculation: She’s running to be Tampa’s next mayor

Castor ends speculation: She’s running to be Tampa’s next mayor

TAMPA — For months, Tampa political aficionados have speculated: Will she or won’t she?Does Jane Castor, the city’s first woman police chief and presumed heavyweight mayoral candidate, really want the job? Asked and answered. Castor filed paperwork T...
Published: 04/19/18