Thursday, February 26, 2009

Florida budget crunch puts the squeeze on prisons

BY CAROL MARBIN MILLER --This from the Miami Herald. Please note my comments in Blue.

Florida's desire to build more prisons to house a growing inmate population is running into harsh economic realities, with the state predicting a need to build as many as 19 new prisons over the next five years even as state revenues shrink. The problem has caught the attention of the state's most powerful business lobby, which is proposing what its leaders acknowledge is a radical idea: Stop building beds and instead release nonviolent inmates. The group, Associated Industries of Florida, has released a position paper calling on lawmakers to halt the scheduled construction of three new prisons, each to house 1,300 inmates. Building the prisons is expected to cost a total of $300 million, plus an additional $81 million per year in operating costs.

(There have been countless proposals sent to our legislators demonstrating that the money could be used more effectively elsewhere and also reduce the prison population. This is the unintended consequences of adopting a “tough on crime” persona. You are willing to waste money on prisons and deprive the citizens of Florida of much needed services for fear of looking weak)

The state Department of Corrections could forgo the prison construction by releasing about 3,900 inmates, the group recommends, saying the prisoners should be near the end of their term, and the release should not include any violent felons, pedophiles or sexual predators. Barney T. Bishop, Associated Industries' president, acknowledges that some conservatives might find it ''left-wing for a business association executive'' to support the release of prison inmates. But ''it doesn't make sense to me,'' he said, ``to build those prisons.'' Bishop is not alone in seeking unconventional solutions to the state's budget woes. State Sen. Victor D. Crist, the chairman of the Justice Appropriations Committee, said he, too, has been looking at ways to avoid a new prison-building binge with tax dollars that don't exist.

Crist, a Tampa Republican, supports the idea of halting prison construction. But he says Bishop's proposal to release some inmates will be a tough sell.

(To whom...the mentally ill...families with sick children, educators?)

''Both AIF and the Florida Senate are on the same page with the idea of saving money by slowing down the construction of beds,'' Crist said. ``But we're on two different pages on how to accomplish that.'' Among other things, Crist proposes the state save about $24 million by contracting with either public or privately run prisons just outside Florida's borders to house 450 inmates. ''The correctional systems in surrounding states, especially private operators, have a significant amount of beds available,'' Crist said.

(I really do like Senator Crist but this proposal is a like putting a a band aide on a rotting limb. It’s only postponing the inevitable. Besides didn’t Florida’s legislature decide not to contract with private prisons a few years ago)

He also suggests the Department of Corrections could take over operation of secure facilities recently vacated by juvenile-justice administrators, who have been aggressively cutting costs as well.
(This is government speak for reducing services on a population which will ultimately end up in our prisons)

The facilities could house inmates nearing the end of their sentences who are in work-release programs.
(This could be done in the facilities they are currently housed in)

State Rep. J.C. Planas, a Miami Republican and lawyer, said there's another speed bump on the way to releasing some inmates: The proposal would require revising state law, which requires that prisoners serve most of their sentences before release. ''From my perspective, everything is on the table,'' said Planas, who chairs the House Public Safety Domestic Security Policy committee. ``But [release] is a quasi-last resort.''

(No it isn’t. Rep. Planas should check with Governor Schwarzenegger and ask what the Feds are threatening to do to his prison system)

Tom Blomberg, dean of Florida State University's criminology and criminal justice department, said he's not surprised that even conservative groups are looking at what used to be considered radical ideas for curbing the prison population. As the economy worsens, ''a lot of people feel this is the time to exploit the opportunity to get members of the public and policymakers to realize they must approach various alternatives,'' Blomberg said.
Bishop's proposal also recommends that released inmates receive services to help keep them from returning to prison.

DOC spokeswoman Gretl Plessinger said Corrections Secretary Walt McNeil agrees with Bishop's recommendation that inmates released from a state prison receive life skills training, basic education and substance abuse and mental-health care to improve their chances of staying out of prison. About one-third of inmates are back behind bars within three years.

(Hear! Hear!)

Florida lawmakers may have $5 billion less for the budget that begins on July 1 than the current year's budget, Crist said. Citing tanking state revenues, McNeil announced last month that he had laid off 66 probation officers.
In recent weeks, Florida's prison population topped 100,000, though the census stood at 99,691 on Wednesday, Plessinger said. The state Criminal Justice Estimating Conference, which forecasts prison admissions, estimates a state prison population of 106,086 by the end of the next budget year, June 2010, a slight drop from previous forecasts, records show. Based upon previous forecasts, prison administrators have said they would need to build 19 new prisons in the next five years, Plessinger said.

Why the constant need to build more beds? Bill Bales, an FSU criminology professor who is a former researcher and forecaster at DOC, said a handful of get-tough-on-crime laws, all passed within the past two decades, have kept inmates locked up longer. Years ago, Bales said, prisoners could expect to serve a fraction of their sentences before being released on gain time or parole. But with mandatory minimum sentences and mandatory life terms for career criminals, ``there is no release valve available, unlike in states that have parole.''

(More mandatory minimum laws or rely on a judge’s experience and intellect along with a good pre-sentencing investigation now that’s a tough decision...which will cost us more in the long run?
The answer Mr. Trebek is what is the cost of building 19 prisons?)

''It is not a big surprise that the population has skyrocketed, especially the last couple of years,'' Bales said.

(No it isn’t but what will it take for our legislators to understand)


1 comment:

Ahma Daeus said...

A “SINGLE VOICE PROJECT” is the official name of the petition sponsored by: The National Public Service Council To Abolish Private Prisons (NPSCTAPP)


The National Public Service Council To Abolish Private Prisons (NPSCTAPP) is a grass roots organization driven by a single objective. We want the United States government to reclaim sole authority for state and federal prisons on US soil.
We want the United States Congress to immediately rescind all state and federal contracts that permit private prisons “for profit” to exist in the United States, or any place subject to its jurisdiction. We understand that the problems that currently plague our government, its criminal justice system and in particular, the state & federal bureau of prisons (and most correctional and rehabilitation facilities) are massive. However, it is our solemn belief that the solutions for prison reform will remain unattainable and virtually impossible as long as private prisons for profit are permitted to operate in America.

Prior to the past month, and the fiasco of Fannie Mae, Freddie Mac, AIG, Lehman Brothers, and now the “Big Three” American Automobile manufacturers, the NPSCTAPP has always felt compelled to highlight the “moral Bottom line” when it comes to corrections and privatization. Although, we remain confounded by the reality that our government has allowed our justice system to be operated by private interests. The NPSCTAPP philosophy has always been “justice” should not be for sale at any price. It is our belief that the inherent and most fundamental responsibility of the criminal justice system should not be shirked, or “jobbed-out.” This is not the same as privatizing the post office or some trash pick up service in the community. There has to be a loss of meaning and purpose when an inmate looks at a guard’s uniform and instead of seeing an emblem that reads State Department of Corrections or Federal Bureau of Prisons, he sees one that says: “Atlas Prison Corporation.”

Let’s assume that the real danger of privatization is not some innate inhumanity on the part of its practitioners but rather the added financial incentives that reward inhumanity. The same logic that motivates companies to operate prisons more efficiently also encourages them to cut corners at the expense of workers, prisoners and the public. Every penny they do not spend on food, medical care or training for guards is a dime they can pocket. What happens when the pennies pocketed are not enough for the shareholders? Who will bailout the private prison industry when they hold the government and the American people hostage with the threat of financial failure…“bankruptcy?” What was unimaginable a month ago merits serious consideration today. State and Federal prison programs originate from government design, and therefore, need to be maintained by the government. It’s time to restore the principles and the vacated promise of our judicial system.

John F. Kennedy said, “The time to repair the roof is while the sun is shinning”. Well the sun may not be shinning but, it’s not a bad time to begin repair on a dangerous roof that is certain to fall…. because, “Incarcerating people for profit is, in a word WRONG”

There is an urgent need for the good people of this country to emerge from the shadows of cynicism, indifference, apathy and those other dark places that we migrate to when we are overwhelmed by frustration and the loss of hope.
It is our hope that you will support the NPSCTAPP with a show of solidarity by signing our petition. We intend to assemble a collection of one million signatures, which will subsequently be attached to a proposition for consideration. This proposition will be presented to both, the Speaker Of The House Of Representatives (Nancy Pelosi) and the United States Congress.

Please Help Us. We Need Your Support. Help Us Spread The Word About This Monumental And Courageous Challenge To Create Positive Change. Place The Link To The Petition On Your Website! Pass It On!

The SINGLE VOICE PETITION and the effort to abolish private “for profit” prisons is the sole intent of NPSCTAPP. Our project does not contain any additional agendas. We have no solutions or suggestions regarding prison reform. However, we are unyielding in our belief that the answers to the many problems which currently plague this nation’s criminal justice system and its penal system in particular, cannot and will not be found within or assisted by the private “for profit” prison business. The private “for profit” prison business has a stranglehold on our criminal justice system. Its vice-like grip continues to choke the possibility of justice, fairness, and responsibility from both state and federal systems.
These new slave plantations are not the answer!

For more information please visit: or email:
To sign the petition please visit:


William Thomas
National Community Outreach Facilitator
The National Public Service Council To Abolish Private Prisons
P.O. Box 156423
San Francisco, California 94115