Florida spending too much on prisons | Feb. 13, commentary
Prison reforms will save money
We can all agree that Florida spends too much on prisons. However, the reasons are related more to the size of the prison population than the cost efficiency of the state-run agencies. People are surprised to learn that the United States leads the world in incarceration rate, and Florida ranks seventh in the nation.
The Collins Center's "Smart Justice" report attributes the rapid growth in our state's prison population to the "tough on crime" mentality that swept the country in years past. The tough talk made for great political speeches but the legislation resulted in poor policy, swelling our jails with nonviolent offenders who became wards of the state. We are now paying the price.
Brad Swanson's assertion that we must do "something different" by privatizing the prisons ignores the most effective solution to the problem: reduce the prison population. He failed to mention that the thrust of the "Smart Justice" report urged criminal justice reform — "smart on crime" initiatives — as the solution to prison overpopulation and cost control. The "Smart Justice" report cited eight specific recommendations to reduce costs, but no mention of privatization.
The competitive free market frequently provides the most efficient solutions. However, the playing field should be level. The private contractors should be required to provide benefits to their employees, and should not be allowed to cherry-pick inmates by excluding the more costly prisoners, i.e., the elderly, infirm, mentally disabled and more dangerous felons. Additionally, rehabilitation should be a primary goal and those programs not included in cost management analysis. Finally, most private enterprises work to increase their customer base. Any private prison company should have financial incentives to reduce their "customer" count; especially as the implementation of "Smart Justice" reforms work to reduce the prison population.
William Weller, Tierra Verde
Keep prayer out of public schools Feb. 13, editorial
Proposals are coercion
The Florida Legislature's school prayer bills are clearly not concerned with freedom of religion but rather with coercing religious exercises upon a captive audience. True, students are not required to attend football and sports activities, nor their own graduation, but since these are formal and desired school activities, students should not be discouraged from attending due to religious bullying.
In fact, students have a great deal of religious freedom during the school day. When not engaged in school activities or instruction, they may pray or read Bibles at any time as long as they do not disrupt the educational program. They may say grace before meals, and pray or study religious materials with fellow students during recess, the lunch hour, or other noninstructional time. Students may organize prayer groups and religious clubs to the same extent they organize other noncurricular student activities. And, obviously, they can meet before football games or graduation to express spiritual resolve.
Students also may express their beliefs about religion in homework, artwork and other written and oral assignments as long as they meet the ordinary academic standards of substance and relevance.
These accommodations were established legally over many decades. It is clear there is no need for SB 98 to force a particular religious exercise upon an assembly of children.
Nan Owens, Seffner
Let speech be heard
While I and most people would agree that preaching is not appropriate in our public schools, allowing student-led prayers, giving thanks or asking for help and support should be allowed. The editorial wants to invoke the First Amendment, but at the same time advocates denying it: freedom of speech is freedom of speech.
As for the argument about students who do not belong to the mainstream religion feeling alienated and ostracized, this goes on every day in our schools. Should we ban athletic programs because those who are not athletic are alienated and ostracized? Students are ostracized for the way they dress, being artistic, not having enough money, being conservative. I could go on.
Denying the majority of free speech rights guaranteed by the Constitution is morally wrong. As long as prayer is not used to preach or insult others, but rather for inspiration, it should be allowed in noncompulsory events. If students from minority religions wish to speak, they should be given the same rights.
Deborah Butler, Valrico
Hiring and firing health insurers | Feb. 13, commentary
Locked in to high prices
It is indeed important to have the option to switch insurance carriers. Would that were possible. As a retiree who lost her health insurance when my former employer discontinued coverage, I know firsthand how hard it is to get and keep health insurance.
While only having two minor health issues, I was turned down for coverage by two major insurance carriers (one of whom had insured me for years with my former employer) before being approved for coverage with another at a much higher monthly rate. When I asked if they could ever discontinue coverage after accepting me, the answer was a resounding no. But after only three months with the policy, they raised my rates.
Now I get it. They won't dump me no matter what, but they'll just keep raising my rates. I never thought I would look forward to turning 65, but making it to Medicare age is looking better and better.
Lynda Aters Towery, Bradenton
Why Bishop Lynch is wrong | Feb. 8, commentary
Rights are infringed
Roy Peter Clark accused St. Petersburg Bishop Robert Lynch of being against our president when in fact, the bishop's own words clarify that this is not a fight that we have chosen, but rather one chosen by the administration. The president could wipe this regulation off the books and the battle the church did not start would be over.
A superficial understanding of the Health and Human Services mandate might leave people wondering, "What's the big deal? Many Catholics don't follow the teaching of the church regarding contraception anyway." On one hand they might have a point; many people do not understand the beauty of the church's teaching regarding the dignity of sexuality within the sacrament of marriage. Nor do many citizens understand the abortifacient means of the most popular contraceptives.
However, the deeper issue is the fundamentally un-American stance being taken by the administration to force its agenda upon segments of our society that have heretofore been constitutionally protected under freedom of religion and clauses for conscientious objectors. The meat of the matter is the basic infringement of First Amendment rights, and if we don't speak out now, the stakes will only get higher once a precedent is set. Even the "accommodation" made Friday is unfortunately a distinction without difference.
I am grateful for the support of so many people of goodwill who have stood up in solidarity with the Catholic Church.
Father David Toups, pastor, Christ the King Catholic Church, Tampa