Recognizing that 90% of all Florida prisoners will eventually be released into society, former Governor Jeb Bush commissioned the Ex-Offender Task Force (Task Force) on February 7, 2005 to report on how the state can improve the effectiveness "in facilitating the re-entry of ex-offenders into their communities so as to reduce the incidence of recidivism." The preliminary result is a comprehensive report issued in November 2006, which makes recommendations that are a drastic change from how Florida prisons are now operated.
The Task Force found that recidivism not only creates new victims, it's a huge burden on taxpayers. Currently, 44% of all Florida prisoners have been there before. It costs $148 million to house those recidivists for their first year. Compound that with an average 4.6 year sentence, and the bill comes to $6.76 billion. That money could be better spent on "anti-crime" strategies, the Task Force concluded.
The first step in achieving a reduction in recidivism must start upon entry into prison. The report recommends the Florida Department of Corrections (FDOC) revise its mission statement to address successful reentry. To assess performance in reaching that goal, performance measures for each prison should be implemented.
It was found that prisoner programs must be expanded. The report found a direct correlation between decreased disciplinary actions and recidivism rates with prisoners involved in available programs. There was "increased mutual respect among staff, inmates, and volunteers, the increased engagement of volunteers, and focused emphasis on rehabilitation" in faith and character-based prisons. These types of prisons are "budget-neutral." As such, it was recommended six more such prisons be so transformed by December 2008.
Of the $1.9 billion FDOC annual budget only 2% ($32.4 million) goes towards programs. This has increased prisoner idleness. Increasing academic, vocational, substance abuse programs could save taxpayers $6.7 million per year by reducing recidivism. Instead, FDOC has decreased its treatment and educational budget 47% since 2001. Of course, the Task Force recommended this change, as well as outsourcing job training.
FDOC should also increase its work release program. Work release is only available to 3.4% of prisoners prior to release. Yet, it costs half as much to house a prisoner per day and reduces recidivism.
Discharge planning should begin upon entry. It was recommended FDOC develop "an individualized reentry plan that addresses education; employment, including resume preparation, job seeking and interviewing; health, mental health and substance abuse challenges; managing family conflict; mentoring; and strategies to develop pro-social behavior and desistance from crime."
The Task Force found that local reentry councils should be created to assist released prisoners. It recommended the legislature create a "transition authority" to coordinate between FDOC, the Florida Parole Commission, and other state agencies that can "help coordinate the work of reenty at the community level."
This report, which comprises 44 pages, is an in-depth look at Florida's prison system and its failures to rehabilitate prisoners. If implemented, the recommendations may change all of that and save taxpayer dollars. Whether any of it will be implemented, remains to be seen. The report is available on PLN's website.
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