Florida’s get-tough policy on crime over the past few decades is set to collide with an austere budget and a conservative governor pledging to take bold steps to save money, reports the Sarasota Herald-Tribune. With 102,000 prisoners, Florida has the third-largest prison population in the country and some of the toughest sentencing practices in the United States. But most of those prisoners, poorly educated, lacking job training and facing unresolved drug and alcohol problems and mental illness, will wind up back on the streets — and soon, in prison again.
Those circumstances have led to an explosion in the prison population and the annual $2.4 billion corrections budget. Over the last five years, the system has grown by 17,300 prisoners, despite a declining crime rate. Now, in a dramatic shift in prison policy, state leaders looking to cover a budget gap of more than $4 billion may look to aggressively embrace private prisons, as well as an substance abuse and education programs and other efforts to prepare prisoners to successfully return to their communities. Gov. Rick Scott has promised to cut $1 billion from the corrections budget over the next seven years. His plan for achieving that goal will become clearer in the next few weeks, as he presents his first budget to the Legislature and his newly appointed corrections secretary, Edwin Buss — who earned a reputation as an innovative cost-cutter as head of the Indiana prison system — begins his job on Feb. 14.