THE ISSUE: Top lawmaker calls Florida prison system a “powder keg.”
OUR OPINION: Clean up your act.
Miami Herald columnist Steve Bousquet recently wrote about the sad state of affairs in Florida’s prison system.
His column served as a staggering reminder of problems most choose to ignore.
Overcrowding. High staff turnover. Low pay. The issues with the system are piled high, and the costs to fix them are unmanageable.
While prison and prisoners fall clearly in the out-of-sight, out-of-mind column, we can’t ignore the impact a failing prison system has on the rest of the population.
Florida’s prison system, like most others across the U.S., is designed to punish, not rehabilitate. We agree punishment is necessary, but rehabilitation cannot be dismissed. Without programs and services to curb behavior and prepare prisoners for their inevitable return to society, we create a formula for high recidivism.
And who pays for that? Taxpayers.
Florida has the third largest prison system, with about 96,000 prisoners and a roughly $2.4 billion annual budget. Florida requires prisoners to serve at least 85% of their sentence. About 36% of prisoners are incarcerated for nonviolent crimes such as drug possession, vandalism and theft.
The prison system is well short of the money to operate it properly and it likely won’t get the $330 million it needs to operate next as is. Some state financial wizards foresee an economic downturn, which means cuts, not hikes in budgets.
That leaves state prison officials out of options.
If legislators do not find a way to solve this growing problem, we may see prison sentences cut short. If that happens, the problem will no longer be in the out-of-sight category.
It is time lawmakers cleaned up their prison system debacle.