A call by Florida’s most powerful business lobby to halt prison construction and reform the criminal justice system is gaining surprising traction during a deepening budget crisis and growing evidence that building new prison beds will not reduce crime, the Miami Herald reports. Four months after the head of Associated Industries of Florida stunned lawmakers with a plea to slow prison growth, a who’s-who of business, religious and political leaders are asking Gov. Charlie Crist to consider alternatives to incarceration for non-violent offenders, particularly drug addicts.
Crist and state lawmakers this week received an ”open letter” from opinion-makers calling for a “bold and serious conversation about justice reform.” The statement was signed by three former Florida attorneys general — Jim Smith, Bob Butterworth, and Richard Doran — along with retired Department of Corrections secretary James McDonough and the heads of the Florida Association of Counties and the Florida Catholic Conference. Calling itself the Coalition for Smart Justice, the group is asking state leaders to bolster education, drug and alcohol treatment and faith-based and character-building programs both within the state prison system and in community settings as an alternative to prison. McDonough, the state’s former drug czar and prisons chief, said Florida can avoid the need to build a new $100 million prison each year by spending one-fifth that amount on drug treatment. ”The math is irrefutable,” McDonough said. “That’s $100 million right there that you don’t have to spend immediately.”