Make us your home page
Instagram

Today’s top headlines delivered to you daily.

(View our Privacy Policy)

Florida wants to reopen prisons to house more inmates

Gov. Rick Scott touted savings from the closures and wants budget cuts.

Gov. Rick Scott touted savings from the closures and wants budget cuts.

TALLAHASSEE — A year after Florida closed several prisons to save money, the state says it must reopen some of them because of projections of a growing inmate population.

The Department of Corrections wants the Legislature to appropriate $59 million to open nine shuttered facilities next year from Miami to the Panhandle, including two prisons, five work camps and two re-entry centers. The prisons, in Raiford and Polk City, were closed in July 2012 and were touted by Gov. Rick Scott as good-news, cost-cutting steps in the budget.

The new request is based on a July forecast from the state Criminal Justice Estimating Conference showing that even as the crime rate continues to drop, new admissions to the prison system are rising. They are projected to increase by 2.7 percent next year and 1.4 percent the following year, requiring more than 1,000 new prison beds.

The current inmate population is about 101,000.

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 $58.8 million to hire 862 workers by June 2015. 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.

Contact Steve Bousquet at bousquet@tampabay.com or (850) 224-7263.

Reopening prisons?

Prisons, work camps and re-entry centers that the Department of Corrections wants to reopen:

• New River Correctional, Raiford

• DeMilly Correctional, Polk City

• Everglades Re-Entry Center

• Baker Re-Entry Center

• Columbia Work Camp

• Cross City Work Camp

• Hamilton Work Camp

• Okeechobee Work Camp

• Santa Rosa Work Camp

Source: Florida Department of Corrections

Florida wants to reopen prisons to house more inmates 10/31/13 [Last modified: Thursday, October 31, 2013 11:28pm]
Photo reprints | Article reprints

© 2017 Tampa Bay Times

    

Join the discussion: Click to view comments, add yours

Loading...
  1. Bucs journal: Kicker Nick Folk has up and downs against Jaguars

    Bucs

    JACKSONVILLE — If the Bucs had hoped for a drama-free night in their kicking game, they'll have to wait another week.

    Bucs kicker Nick Folk celebrates one of his two made field goals against the Jaguars, but he also misses a field goal and has an extra point blocked.
  2. Late night update: Second wave follows Tropical Storm Harvey

    Hurricanes

    UPDATE: At 11 p.m. the National Hurricane Center said a hurricane hunter plane had determined that Tropical Storm Harvey had formed with sustained winds of 40 mph.

    Three tropical waves are expected to strengthen as they move across the Atlantic Ocean. [Courtesy of the National Hurricane Center]
  3. Stealth anti-Jack Latvala group tied to Adam Putnam campaign

    Blogs

    Politico reports:

     A longtime political consultant for Republican gubernatorial candidate Adam Putnam is behind a website calling one of his rivals in the race, state Sen. Jack Latvala, a “liberal.”

  4. Council gives in to pension dispute with St. Pete firefighters

    Local Government

    ST. PETERSBURG — The City Council was forced to consider its first labor dispute in years Thursday when it gave the firefighters union most of the pension enhancements it has long asked for.

    The firefighters’ union won a pension victory at Thursday’s City Council meeting. [SCOTT KEELER    |      TIMES]
  5. Bucs top Jaguars behind strong first half

    Bucs

    JACKSONVILLE

    There is a reason why the air in Tampa Bay is filled with playoff talk. If Thursday night's 12-8 Bucs preseason win over the Jaguars is any indication, it's also going to be filled with footballs thrown by quarterback Jameis Winston.

    Doug Martin gets the Bucs’ only touchdown  on a 2-yard run, squeaking past linebacker Telvin Smith in the first quarter. He has five carries for 30 yards.