St. Pete Times Calls on Conservatives to ‘Rehabilitate’ FL Prisons


It is time for Florida’s Republican-led Legislature to “rehabilitate” the state’s costly criminal justice system, the St. Petersburg Times says in an editorial. Experts say diversion programs, drug treatment and flexible sentencing reforms are the best ways to pare back the Department of Corrections’ $2.4 billion budget. The paper says, “The need for reform is real. Florida’s decades of get-tough-on-crime policies — including minimum mandatory sentences and three strikes you’re out — have swollen the state’s prison population to more than 100,000 and shortchanged rehabilitation in the process. The bottom line delivered to lawmakers this week: The only way to save significant money is to keep people out of prison or move them out sooner.”

Conservatives have resisted “liberal” prison reform. But they are being told from various quarters, including Florida TaxWatch, the state’s business-backed fiscal watchdog group, that changes must be made. One of TaxWatch’s most significant recommendations is to add flexibility to the current rule that requires inmates to serve at least 85 percent of their sentences. This alone could save the state up to $53 million annually. The paper says, “Clearly, the best way to save hundreds of millions of dollars in prison costs is to adopt policies that invest in turning low-level offenders into productive citizens. If there is one positive that could come out of the state’s fiscal crisis, it’s a more rational and fiscal conservative criminal justice policy.”

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