Tallahassee Democrat: Flanked by scores of Tallahassee police officers, Leon sheriff’s deputies and state Department of Corrections staff, Florida prisons chief Michael Crews announced the number of re-offending prisoners had dropped from 33.8 percent in 2003 to 27.6 percent in 2008.
As reported in the Tallahassee Democrat
Officials tout improving numbers for inmates ending up back behind bars.
Florida officials Monday heralded a decline in felons ending up back behind bars following their release from prisons.
Flanked by scores of Tallahassee police officers, Leon sheriff’s deputies and state Department of Corrections staff, Florida prisons chief Michael Crews announced the number of re-offending prisoners had dropped from 33.8 percent in 2003 to 27.6 percent in 2008.
“This was definitely a collaboration of the good work of the officers on the street, everyone working in our facilities and all of our volunteers working in and out of our prisons every day,” Crews said.
Recidivism rates are based on returning to prison within three years of release, so the three-year span required to calculate it means 2008 is the latest year of data available.
The drop in re-offenders got the attention of Gov. Rick Scott, who has proposed $1,000 one-time bonuses for DOC employees directly responsible and $500 for others. Scott’s budget, which still must get approval from the Legislature, also included $12.5 million to fill positions and $5.4 million to open the Gadsden Correctional Re-Entry Center.
“I think the governor knows that the fewer prisoners we have coming back the less the taxpayer has to pay,” adding that the recidivism drop saved Floridians $44 million.
Crews credited the drop to DOC employees going to 12-hour shifts, volunteers and a decline in new prisoner admissions, which went from 41,054 in fiscal year 2007 to 32,279 in fiscal year 2011.
A lower crime rate and the decreased addition of new prisoners that resulted has led to a smaller-than-projected total prison population. That prompted DOC to close seven of its facilities last year but for now, the rest will stay open.
“A lot of keeping the facilities open has to do with the management of the inmate population,” Crews said, who also said dorms in several facilities have closed. “If a significant event happens and we need to move a lot of inmates, that’s the main reason.”
Crews said his department is talking with private companies interested in taking over six of its work-release centers, a move reflected in Scott’s budget proposal. The concept was sharply criticized after a private Largo facility yielded numerous security violations and inmates in need of substance abuse treatment. Crews said private facilities still fared better at finding inmates work.
“Privates do a better job because they’re more dedicated,” Crews said. “They find inmates higher-paying jobs.”
Florida Smart Justice Alliance President and CEO Barney Bishop said he and state Rep. Dennis Baxley, R-Ocala, want to turn at least one South Florida prison into a privately run inmate mental-health and drug-treatment facility. DOC releases about 33,000 prisoners a year but only 7,500 go through a treatment program. Bishop’s plan would increase that to 9,600.
“The results are there; if they get treatment they’re more likely to succeed and not go back,” Bishop said.
Baxley, who is the chair of the House Judiciary Committee, said the drop in the prison population also would allow more attention to those who are left.
“Even making sure they have programs where they get an identification card,” Baxley said. “That way they can open a bank account, get a job — all those things that are so simple to so many of us.”
Allison DeFoor, chairman of The Project on Accountable Justice at Florida State University, said prison programs treating prisoners for addiction and teaching them to read or the programs at designated faith-based facilities are paramount in fighting recidivism.
“This isn’t rocket science,” DeFoor said. “We know what works; there isn’t’ even discussion for it.”
FSU Criminology Professor Bill Bales said the plummeting statewide crime rate helped curb recidivism as well. Numbers provided by the Florida Department of Law Enforcement show crime dropped more than 56 percent from 1991 to 2011.
Bales, who also was chief research analyst for DOC from 1991 to 2004, said tougher sentencing may have also played a part. A law enacted in October 1995 requires at least 85 percent of every prison sentence be served. Bales said a study he performed on the law showed prisoners sentenced after the 1995 law were less likely to re-offend than those before.
“It seemed like they thought they would go to prison, get off easy and go right back to breaking the law,” Bales said.
The law made for predictable inmate release dates, which allowed DOC to better plan. And with that certainty, the “lock them up and throw away the key” mentality subsided, he said.
“I know it’s anecdotal but it seems logical to me,” Bales said.