Florida is spending more money than ever to lock up convicts, but the state is sharply cutting its most successful prison-rehabilitation programs, the Miami Herald says. To help save $20.8 million, the state slashed 339 positions, including teachers, chaplains, and counselors. Vocational classes like cabinet-making and computer repair have been largely eliminated. Some large prisons with more than 1,000 inmates now have just one chaplain and no support staff.
Florida now has $65 million for 4,000 new prison beds, which could ease crowding but exacerbate the lack of rehabilitation workers. Bill Woolley, who ran prison education programs for five years was so outraged by the changes he quit in July. “The new philosophy is that they are in the care, custody and control business,” he told the Herald. “They’re not in the business of necessarily educating them and putting them in jobs.”
The cuts come as the department’s research showed inmates with job training and high school equivalency degrees are less likely to harm new victims and return to prison. Inmates who get spiritual help create fewer security problems.
Critics say cutting these programs will lead to larger demand for prison beds.
Few states have followed Florida’s path, the Herald says. California considered trimming 330 teachers before deciding the potential future costs of recidivism were too great. California is now promoting its academic programs and reducing vocational ones.
A corrections spokesman the priority is keeping prisoners locked up. “We’ve got 77,000 inmates in the Florida prison system that we’re required to supervise, feed and clothe seven days a week, and that costs money,” said the spokesman.
Gov. Jeb Bush, an advocate of faith-based rehabilitation programs, told the Herald he disagreed with the cuts in education and chaplain services, but largely blamed the legislature.