Monday, March 31, 2008

Inmates could serve time in other states

State inmates could find themselves serving their Florida stint in other states under a new idea lawmakers will consider this week.

A proposal would allow the state’s Department of Corrections to “enter into contractual agreements with another state, a political subdivision of another state, or a vendor in another state to transfer and confine Florida inmates …”

DOC spokeswoman Jo Ellyn Rackleff said Monday there were no plans to ship any inmates out of state.

“We do not want to do this. We would build tents even before we would do this. Correctional officers don’t want us to do it and certainly the inmates’ families don’t want to do this,” she said.

Still, Rackleff said the bill would give “extra insurance so we won’t have to release dangerous inmates” if the state’s prison population triggers a mandatory release due to overcrowding.

And the plan could have favor among lawmakers who see short-term cost-cutting in sending inmates to other states instead of building new prisons in Florida.

While most states have their own overcrowding issue, prisons run by private for-profit companies have accepted other states’ inmates for years. Florida has never transferred inmates to other states for cost or crowding reasons.

Shifting inmates to other states has been a controversial plan. The mixture of different sets of prisoners accustomed to different sets of rules has led to riots in a number of prisons. And the transfer of inmates away from their families and existing educational programs makes it more difficult for prisoners to prepare for life after their release.

“It’s a horrible idea,” said Ken Kopczynski, a lobbyist for the state’s largest correctional officers union, the Florida Police Benevolent Association. “It compromises safety.”

The state’s prison system is facing a stunning budget cut of $160 million or more as lawmakers struggle to deal with a multi-billion budget hole for all state operations. The DOC could lose 1,400 current employees or more.

-- Joe Follick

No comments: