Cut the Prison rate safely

Cut the Prison rate safely
K.C. Walpole
March 26, 2008
On March 23, 2008, the Gainesville Sun ran a story on the editorial page titled ‘Here’s how Americans can cut the prison rate safely. At the core of the article was the question: are we getting our money’s worth out of prisons? The follow up question should have been if it can be then why has it not been done.
The prison population in Florida has two distinguishing characteristics the first is that the average education level of those going to prison is the 6th grade. Second is the single largest group of offenders are those convicted of drug crimes. However, the addiction rate of 60 percent cuts across the education and drug felonies.
In FY 2006-07, 44 percent or 16,000 of 38,000 men and women sent to prison in Florida were repeat offenders released from a Florida state prison. obviously, the much touted hard time did not make much of an impression on these men and women.
Florida’s version of hard time is to turn prisons into post-graduate course in criminality. Programs in clued networking, higher level drug dealing, breaking and entering etc. the system does not address addictions but does take those steps needed to sustain existing addictions.
Most studies of education and recidivism state that an inmate earning a GED in prison will cut their chances of recidivating by at least 20 percent. The state will spend the $1.22 on the average inmate a day or $45 a year for educational services.
There were 93,000 inmates in Florida prisons with an average GED grade level of the 6th grade. Florida prisons awarded 1,312 GED diplomas that year, that is about one GED for every 70 inmates. These are very high class GEDs as the education budget comes in at 4,185,000 or $3,189 per GED. Admittedly, there are other programs in the budget but we are some rather expensive GEDs .
You can argue that time is not on their side but the average sentence is 4.4 years. it would appear that at the end of 4.4 years and a program budget that runs over $4 million could do better.
The office of Program Policy Analysis & Government Accountability which is the Florida version of the Government Accounting office shares this opinion. They state in report No. 07-14 dated February 2007 that 90% of inmates who are enrolled in adult basic education do not successfully complete the program, often for reasons within the department’s control.
The report goes on to say that “Inmates who complete the GED, vocational training, and substance abuse treatment programs generally have successful outcomes in terms of program completion and lower recidivism.”
Florida Tax watch reached a similar conclusion not all that many years ago. So, if these are the facts and they are known to every elected official in Florida government, the question why is it allowed to exist.
The answer to that lies in the single biggest reason men and women are sent to prison. for the last decade, drug felonies are the single largest reason people are sent to prison. that triggers the next question.
What is so appealing about drug felonies. First, drug dealers are harvested of their money and property by the criminal justice system. We are talking of millions and millions of dollars. It was from such a procedure that provided the Gainesville Police Department with money for their recent expansion.
A second fleecing comes from the members of the Florida bar that defend the in court.
Then the state pays to house them in prisons that are a source of employment.
However, the best news is yet to come. It is the political gold of campaign contributions in terms of cash and political support staffs the state legislature. The PBA gave over $2 million in the last election cycle.
The criminal justice community is a fine launching point for higher elective office. These legislatures and governors in turn become the mainstream supporters of further initiatives that fly under the flag of get tough on crime.
Now in FY 2006-07 there were 16,000 felons returned to prison go to lead article for summary.
If we take the average inmate cost of $52 a day, that means not only did the population suffer from needless felonies committed in the 10s of thousands but the public is going to spend $84,000 towards the care and feeding of that inmate for the average sentence length of 4.4 years.

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