A year after Florida closed several prisons to save money, the state says it must reopen some of them because of projections of a growing inmate population, reports the Tampa Bay Times. The state wants $59 million from the legislature to nine shuttered facilities next year from Miami to the Panhandle, including two prisons, five work camps and two re-entry centers. The prisons were closed last year and were touted by Gov. Rick Scott as good-news, cost-cutting steps in the budget.
The new request is based on a July forecast from the state Criminal Justice Estimating Conference showing that even as the crime rate continues to drop, new admissions to the prison system are rising. They are projected to increase by 2.7 percent next year and 1.4 percent the following year, requiring more than 1,000 new prison beds. The current inmate population is about 101,000. Gov. Rick Scott, who’s seeking re-election in 2014, asked state agencies to cut spending by $100 million, but the prison system alone wants $124 million more next year, including money for more officers, new buses and vans, the food service system and an electronic timekeeping system. The sudden shift is reviving the debate over whether Florida locks up too many nonviolent drug offenders who should get treatment, not just punishment.