Eager to cut costs in Florida prisons, Gov. Rick Scott is taking a cue from reform advocates and proposing more money to help inmates fight drug and alcohol abuse, improve mental health, and learn literacy skills, the Miami Herald reports. The proposal marks a shift for Scott, who campaigned on cutting the prison budget. Now he wants to redistribute resources in a way lawmakers and reformers have long discussed: to make inmates more productive citizens, so they are less likely to return to prison.
“We're clearly not ‘correcting' anything, much less rehabilitating them,” said Vicki Lukis, a member of an agency task force. “The old model is lock 'em up and wait for them to return.” In Florida's revolving-door prison system, one of every three inmates commits new crimes after release and is back in custody within a few years. Decades of tough-on-crime laws have nurtured a large population of hard-core felons, and the Department of Corrections' recidivism rate carries an astronomical price tag for taxpayers. Scott wants the legislature to transfer about 2,000 inmates from state-run prisons to privately-run lockups that have empty beds. Scott's office says that would save $135 million in the first year, and the savings would swell to $216 million due to changes in retirement benefits for agency employees. The money would pay for re-entry, education and prevention programs. The state spends $2.4 billion a year to incarcerate more than 101,000 inmates at nearly 150 facilities. Next week, the agency welcomes a new boss, Edwin Buss, Indiana's commissioner of corrections.