We spend way too much on recidivism

April 19, 2013  |  No Comments  |  by Barney Bishop  |  Columns

From the Tallahassee Democrat

There are many reasons the Legislature should embrace “smart justice” legislation, including significant benefits to public safety. But as the House and Senate get down to the nitty-gritty of adopting a final budget, there is an even more compelling reason: money. A lot of it.

The Florida Department of Corrections is working hard to eliminate a budget deficit that swelled to more than $95 million earlier this year. The Legislature and taxpayers have an obvious desire to reduce DOC spending without jeopardizing public safety. One area ripe for savings seems obvious to the Florida Smart Justice Alliance: recidivism. Simply put, the state of Florida is spending entirely too much money incarcerating the same people over and over again, without doing enough to make sure that, once they get out, they stay out.

How much is too much? Florida taxpayers are spending more than a quarter-billion dollars a year to incarcerate more than 14,000 “new” inmates who have been in prison at least once before. Overall, almost half of the state’s prison population is made up of repeat offenders, at a yearly cost of $799.5 million.

This is a big part of Florida’s corrections problem: We aren’t correcting inmates. In most cases, we are just incarcerating them.

Statistics and common sense tell us that, when a felon is arrested again, he probably has committed more than just the single crime that led to this most recent arrest. If the offender has a substance abuse issue, it’s likely there are numerous victims whose homes or cars were broken into to help fuel his habit. Why would we allow that to happen? We know these inmates have addictions, and we had them captured in our prisons for years — yet in most cases we did nothing to help them address their addictions.

This isn’t about being soft on crime or somehow excusing their criminal actions because of alcohol, drug or mental health problems. It’s about being smart on justice by using our resources to help break the cycle of crime, arrest, imprisonment, release … and crime again.

An excellent example of the need for a focused direction on treatment and education is House Judiciary Committee Chair Dennis Baxley’s bill (HB 7121) and its companion by Sen. Thad Altman (SB 1032), which would ensure that Florida-born inmates are able to receive a state-issued ID card or other form of identification when they leave prison. This seemingly small item is a crucial step in an ex-inmate’s effort to secure housing, a job or even a medical prescription refill. Since lack of a job can be one of the top problems for an ex-inmate, helping them in this regard will be of tremendous benefit for society. This can be done without a significant expenditure, and in exchange Florida could realize substantial savings.

Everyone wants a safer society. Florida’s overall crime and recidivism rates have been declining as a result of the state’s deserved reputation for “get tough” criminal justice policies, effective law enforcement and a change in Department of Corrections policies regarding technical violations of probation.

We now have an opportunity to lower these rates even further and realize dramatic cost savings, if we institute smart, intelligent policies that do not undercut the requirement that all prisoners serve at least 85 percent of their sentences.

With Florida spending $255 million annually on re-offenders, we must consider a different approach. We must recognize that by providing treatment for more felons who have underlying issues, we can improve public safety and save considerable tax dollars. Intelligent alternatives can lead to the desired outcomes that taxpayers expect of our policymakers.

Electronic monitoring can help ensure public safety

April 19, 2013  |  No Comments  |  by Barney Bishop  |  Columns

From St Petersburg Blog

The following is a guest op-ed from Barney Bishop III, the president and chief executive officer of the Florida Smart Justice Alliance, a statewide coalition of organizations committed to changes that make communities safer, save the taxpayers money and hold offenders accountable while helping them learn to live law-abiding lives.

Government’s first responsibility is to provide for the safety of its citizenry, and Florida has historically done an excellent job of protecting us from those who would do us harm. Along with effective law enforcement, a key component in Florida’s declining rate of violent crime is the state’s adherence to a rule that all felons must serve at least 85 percent of their sentences before they can be released.

Since the vast majority of felons are going to be released back into our communities – 87 percent of them within five years, according to the head of Florida’s Department of Corrections – we need to use every tool available to ensure that they do not commit new crimes and create new victims. Technological advances can play a vital role in this effort, including Florida’s use of electronic monitoring (“ankle bracelets”) for some prisoners.

The Florida Smart Justice Alliance has consistently advocated for increased use of electronic monitoring.  We applaud Governor Rick Scott for his commitment to public safety in recommending that $7.5 million for work release inmates to be fitted with these devices whenever they work a job outside a secure facility.

Work release is part of a step-down system available to certain inmates, at the discretion of the Department of Corrections. The department conducts a careful classification and risk assessment, and then determines which inmates should be eligible for a job in the community as they near their end of sentence.  These inmates are housed at non-secure facilities, which are always located in urban areas around the state because that’s where the jobs are.

Prison inmates, both violent and non-violent, are coming back to live among us. The only question is whether, having served their time, they will return as law-abiding citizens or resume a life of crime. We can dramatically improve the odds of the first, better option by using tools and providing skills to help them succeed within our communities.

Work release is one of those tools, and electronic monitoring makes it a safer option. Most ankle bracelets are tamper-proof and can track an inmate within a few feet with state-of-the-art GPS technology, even inside a building. This means that if an inmate attempts to remove the bracelet or stray from where he is supposed to be, law enforcement can know quickly. While electronic monitoring by itself won’t prevent a work release inmate from committing a crime, by pinpointing his location at all times the device will make it almost impossible for him to argue that he was somewhere else at the time.

This issue is particularly important in populous counties like Pinellas, where Sen. Jack Latvala and Rep. Ed Hooper have worked tirelessly to ensure the safety of the neighborhood around work release facilities.

In a recent pilot program by a non-profit provider of work release programs, not a single inmate deviated or attempted to remove his ankle bracelet during a 90-day test. Since there is no foolproof test to tell us conclusively who should and should not be allowed to work in the community before leaving prison, we must rely on such technological tools to help minimize the risk of danger.

We could improve the odds by requiring the department to allow only non-violent felons to be in work release programs.  But then what would we do with all the violent inmates who will be getting out with no education or job skills, and no realistic prospects for success? Are we supposed to deny them all opportunity to work and then just hope they successfully reintegrate themselves into society on their own?

The Smart Justice Alliance believes the best hope to protect society is to implement the Governor’s recommendation, making sure all work release inmates wear ankle bracelets whenever they are outside the facility. This will help keep them in their assigned locations, ensuring that public safety remains job number one for Florida government.

The Florida Senate has put the $7.5 million in its criminal justice budget.  The Florida Smart Justice Alliance is optimistic the House will do likewise, because failing to accept the Governor’s recommendation would put our citizens at greater risk. Nothing can be foolproof, but with electronic monitoring we will at least know that our state government did its best to keep us safe.

A smarter way to run Florida’s correctional system

April 18, 2013  |  No Comments  |  by Barney Bishop  |  Columns

From the Miami Herald

There are many reasons the Legislature should embrace “Smart Justice” legislation, including significant benefits to public safety. But as the House and Senate get down to the nitty-gritty of adopting a final budget, there is an even more compelling reason: money. A lot of it.

The Florida Department of Corrections is working hard to eliminate a budget deficit that swelled to more than $95 million earlier this year. The Legislature and taxpayers have an obvious desire to reduce DOC spending without jeopardizing public safety. One area ripe for savings seems obvious to the Florida Smart Justice Alliance: recidivism. Simply put, the state of Florida is spending entirely too much money incarcerating the same people over and over again, without doing enough to make sure that once they get out, they stay out.

How much is too much? Florida taxpayers are spending more than a quarter-billion dollars a year to incarcerate more than 14,000 “new” inmates who had been in prison at least once before. Overall, almost half of the state’s prison population is made up of repeat offenders, at a yearly cost of $799.5 million.

This is a big part of Florida’s corrections problem: We aren’t correcting inmates. In most cases we are just incarcerating them. We can’t afford to do that anymore without providing treatment for underlying issues (so often, substance-abuse or mental-health issues) and educational/vocational services to help them live law-abiding lives once they are released.

Statistics and common sense tell us that when a previous felon is caught again, he has probably committed more than just the single crime that led to this most recent arrest. If the offender has a substance abuse issue, it’s likely there are numerous crime victims whose homes or cars were broken into to help fuel his drug habit. Why would we allow that to happen? We know these inmates have addictions, and we had them captured in our prisons for years – yet in most cases we did nothing to help them address their addictions.

This isn’t about being soft on crime, to somehow excuse their criminal actions because of alcohol, drug or mental health problems. It’s about being smart on justice by using our resources to help break the cycle of crime, arrest, imprisonment, release . . . and crime again.

An excellent example of the need for a focused direction on treatment and education is House Judiciary Committee Chair Dennis Baxley’s bill (HB 7121) and its companion by Sen. Thad Altman (SB 1032), which would ensure that Florida-born inmates are able to receive a state-issued ID card or other form of identification when they leave prison.

This seemingly small item is a crucial step in an ex-inmate’s effort to secure housing, a job or even a medical prescription refill. Since lack of a job can be one of the top problems for an ex-inmate, helping them in this regard will be of tremendous benefit for society. This can be done without a significant expenditure, and in exchange Florida could realize substantial savings.

Everyone wants a safer society. Florida’s overall crime and recidivism rates have been declining as a result of the state’s deserved reputation for “get tough” criminal justice policies, effective law enforcement and a change in Department of Corrections policies regarding technical violations of probation. We now have an opportunity to lower these rates even further and realize dramatic cost savings, if we institute smart, intelligent policies that do not undercut the requirement that all prisoners serve at least 85 percent of their sentences.

With Florida spending $255 million annually on reoffenders, we must consider a different approach. We must recognize that by providing treatment for more felons who have underlying issues, we can improve public safety and save considerable tax dollars. Intelligent alternatives can lead to the desired outcomes that taxpayers expect of our policymakers.

Barney Bishop III is the president and chief executive officer of the Florida Smart Justice Alliance.

Senate Criminal Justice Approves Smart Justice Legislation

April 1, 2013  |  No Comments  |  by Barney Bishop  |  News

TALLAHASSEE, Fla. –Florida’s Smart Justice legislative package won unanimous approval today from the Senate Criminal Justice Committee, after members amended the bill to make it similar to a version advancing in the House. Senate Bill 1032 will expand in-prison and community-based behavioral health care treatment services for non-violent 3rd degree felons who don’t traffic or sell narcotics; help ensure that Florida-born inmates leave prison with an ID card or the information needed to secure one; and encourage the Department of Corrections to increase faith- and character-based services to inmates.

“By serving as the bill’s sponsor, Sen. Thad Altman is showing outstanding leadership on an important issue that affects every community and every Floridian,” said Barney Bishop III, president & CEO of the Florida Smart Justice Alliance, which helped craft the legislation. “The ‘lock ‘em up and throw away the key’ approach of the past has turned Florida’s prison gates into a revolving door, and this legislation will do a great deal to break the cycle of recidivism.”

Department of Corrections statistics show that 43 percent of inmates entering the prison system each year are reoffenders, yet fewer than one-fourth of released inmates received substance abuse or mental health counseling that could have helped them live law-abiding lives after their release. By working to break this pattern, the Smart Justice legislation will reduce recidivism, enhance public safety and save tax dollars. It does not alter the requirement that prisoners serve at least 85 percent of their sentences before being eligible for release.

Of the 100,000 inmates in Florida prisons, 40,000 are non-violent drug abusers who cost taxpayers more than $700 million each year. According to DOC statistics, private sector community-based drug treatment has a recidivism rate of 18 percent, nearly half of the DOC recidivism rate.  These compelling statistics are at the heart of Smart Justice, which is committed to finding ways to spend tax dollars more intelligently in order to produce the outcomes taxpayers expect.

Florida is spending more than 200 million dollars a year to house repeat offenders

March 27, 2013  |  No Comments  |  by Barney Bishop  |  News

As seen on WCJB Gainesville

Florida is spending more than 200- million dollars a year to house repeat offenders– inmates who get out only to commit new crimes. but mike vasilinda reports, prison system leaders are having trouble convincing lawmakers they have a better idea. thirty-two thousand prison inmates will complete their sentence this year. but before another year is over, 12 to 14 thousand of them will be back behind bars. most who come back have no education or job skills, but they do have a drug problem. ”and we can send them out of the gate when the end of that sentence comes and just hope for the best.” this brand new 432 bed prison was built to offer a different alternative michael crews/ corrections secretary “when they come to this facility their day is going to be spent on programming whether that’s adult basic education skills, ged, substance abuse.” there is a chapel, a computer room, a library and plenty of classroom space. ”in addition to furthering their education and being treated for drug abuse, those inmates who want to learn how to work in a restaurant can receive a certification so they’re ready to find a job when they get out.” but before the plan becomes reality, lawmakers need to sign off on 5.4 million to open the prison. something they haven’t done yet. legislation called smart justice is also on the table. it will require every inmate to be provided the right ids to qualify for work. ”without an id card they can’t get a job. without a job they can’t get a place to live. those are the first two issues they all have to come to face with.” even if the re-entry model lives up to its promise, it would take 75 of these model prisons to provide treatment for every inmate that leaves the system. the department of corrections has three new prisons it wants to use as re-entry facilities, but it has no money to open any of them. …

Listen Again: House Panel Debate About ‘Smart Justice’ Bill Turns Into Battle: Public Vs. Private

March 20, 2013  |  No Comments  |  by Barney Bishop  |  News

Listen Again at WFSU

A Florida House panel has cleared a bill that seeks to keep non-violent offenders from re-offending and going back to prison. But, while most provisions had much approval, the discussion later devolved into a matter between public vs. private operation of the inmate re-entry facilities.

Making sure eligible nonviolent offenders do not go back to prison and are treated at a re-entry facility through the state’s drug treatment programs is the goal of the legislation. Convicts would get treatment while in prison and while on probation outside of prison. The bill’s House sponsor is Republican Representative Dennis Baxley in his capacity as chair of the House Judiciary Committee, the panel that vetted the bill Wednesday.

“This is designed to get those inmates that have not committed any violent offense, but have a substance abuse problem—the treatment they need for successful re-entry back into society,” said Baxley.

One provision in the bill allows for the state to provide identification cards for these inmates free of charge. Baxley says one of the biggest obstacles ex-inmates face is trying to get ID cards, upon their release from prison. So, he wants to provide a way to make it easier for these former offenders.

“An ID card is absolutely needed if they’re going to get a job, if they’re going to get a place to live, and if they’re going to successfully re-enter into society,” said Barney Bishop.

Bishop is with the Florida Smart Justice Alliance, an initiative that grew out of an idea by a number of business leaders to find cost-effective ways to improve public safety.

Later, after he started praising the bill, he brought up contrasts between the Department of Corrections and private providers, like Bridges of America, a group he’s associated with.

And, that caught the ear of Democratic Representative Elaine Schwartz of Hollywood.

“You brought up something that hasn’t been mentioned at all: the word private, which really indicates what’s happening here, I think, and so, am I correct in assuming this is in fact privatization,” asked Schwartz.

“Representative, no it’s not! Because these programs already exist. And, any deep analysis of this bill would show you that there is no privatization here. There is no increase in privatization,” replied Bishop.

But, according to the Legislature’s analysis of the bill, it does allow the department to “establish incentives for the reentry program to promote participation by private sector employers within the program.”

And, a representative from Bridges of America, Jim DeBeaugrine, also testified before the committee, recommending that the re-entry services should be provided in a facility dedicated to that purpose.

“And, that is why we have proposed separately that you consider the Governor’s recommendations to reopen the reentry centers, those empty 400-bed facilities. There’s one in Gadsden County, Baker County, and South Miami-Dade. And, we will argue to the Appropriations Committee that one of those facilities should be operated by private providers who have direct experience doing this,” DeBeaugrine.

But, Ron Silver with the Teamsters Union, a group that represents thousands of correctional officers, says he has a huge problem with that

“Let’s keep it within the Department of Corrections. Let’s give the Department of Corrections the resources to do the job because they’re the ones that are experts in our security situation. They’re trained in security.  I don’t know what private corporations are trained in as far as security is concerned, but they don’t have the certification of the Florida Department of Law Enforcement, like our Department of Corrections people do,” said Silver.

But, Republican Representative Marti Coley says she wants to get back to the true goal of the bill.

“I am excited to help these inmates be more prepared to re-enter society. I do not see this bill privatizing our prisons, and that’s what I feel like I heard today and that’s why I’m a little frustrated,” said Coley.

The proposal became a committee bill, after it passed out of the House Judiciary Committee on a 12 to 6 vote, with some Republicans voting against the proposal.

Bill Passes out of Judiciary Committee

March 20, 2013  |  No Comments  |  by Barney Bishop  |  News

THE CAPITAL, TALLAHASSEE, March 20, 2013…….The House Judiciary Committee on Wednesday passed a bill aimed at breaking the cycle of recidivism in Florida prisons by rehabilitating non-violent felons in the last three years of their sentences.

The so-called ‘smart justice’ bill was originally filed by Rep. Dennis Baxley, R-Ocala, the committee chairman, and passed on a 12-6 vote.

The measure (PCB JDC 13-01) would provide behavioral health care treatment services to non-violent, third-degree felons who don’t traffic in narcotics. Its premise is that roughly half the state’s 100,000 prisoners are serving time for non-violent crimes and can be readied for re-entry into society without compromising public safety, thus slashing millions of dollars from the state corrections budget.

“Hold people accountable, absolutely,” Baxley said. “But when they respond to that, start offering a continuum and a platform to actually put them back to being constructive.”

Drugs are the number one reason for incarceration in Florida, applying to 24.8 percent of inmates. Property crimes are number three, affecting 15.1 percent of prisoners, and other non-violent crimes are the fifth-leading cause, affecting 8.1 percent.

Proponents of the measure described Florida prisons as a revolving door, with 32,555 new admissions this year – of which 14,000 are-offenders – and 33,073 released this year. Of those released, only 7,500 will have received some type of treatment.

But there was disagreement over whether treatment services should be provided by the state or by private companies.

Barney Bishop III, president and CEO of the Florida Smart Justice Alliance, said the state is unable to spend the same kind of money on treatment that private providers do.

Of DOC’s $2.1 billion budget, Bishop said, the agency spends $22 million a year on education, or 68 cents a day, and $6 million on substance abuse, or 19 cents a day.

“One private provider, Bridges of America, which has six programs in the state, they spend $5.24 a day on education,” he said. “And on substance abuse, they spend six dollars a day. So you’re spending dollars versus cents.”

Bishop is a lobbyist for Bridges of America, which operates faith-based re-entry centers that teach inmates work and life skills.

Former state Sen. Ron Silver opposed the bill on behalf of the Teamsters, who represent DOC employees.

“I don’t see what the rush is,” Silver said. “Do you want to give private enterprise the ability to do this, or do you want to give the good men and women of the Department of Corrections the ability to do so? I think they’re doing a heck of a job with what they got.”

But lawmakers quickly moved to support the measure.

“What can we do to help these inmates be more prepared to re-enter our society?” asked Rep. Marti Coley, R-Mariana. “I think this bill gives them tools to accomplish that.”

The bill also would help ensure that Florida-born inmates leave prison with an ID card or the information needed to secure one.

But it faces an uphill climb in the Senate, where Senate President Don Gaetz has said the state crime rate is at a 41-year low because of Florida’s get-tough-on-crime approach.

Barney Bishop: Tackle DOC’s budget deficit with smart justice

March 15, 2013  |  No Comments  |  by Barney Bishop  |  Columns

From the Tallahassee Democrat

Recently, two important developments occurred in the ongoing struggle to keep Floridians safe without breaking the bank.

Department of Corrections Secretary Michael Crews disclosed that his department’s annual deficit had ballooned from about $36 million at the start of the fiscal year to more than $95 million. This explosive growth of red ink was based on decisions both within and beyond DOC’s purview, and legislators involved in the appropriations process expressed understandable concern.

The previous day, the Florida Smart Justice Alliance held a news conference to unveil legislation (SB 1032) to increase treatment services and work release opportunities for prison inmates preparing to return to society. At the news conference, the question was appropriately asked how this can be accomplished in light of DOC’s huge deficit. The answer is surprisingly simple: By dealing with many inmates’ problems before they re-enter society, we can reduce their tendency toward recidivism — which saves money and reduces the number of future crime victims.

The alliance has presented a proposal that will not cost any new tax dollars and will in fact save $15 million, money that can be used to help reduce DOC’s deficit. The plan involves closing a $39-million-a-year prison and shifting its 2,100 beds to provide treatment and work release. This would cost taxpayers just $24 million, producing a savings of $15 million and improving public safety by making it less likely those offenders will commit future crimes.

Predictably, there was opposition from those who prefer the status quo. They point out that Florida’s crime and recidivism rates are lower than before, and suggest that our state’s historic “tough on crime” approach has been sufficient. While these rates have indeed showed improvement, they are not what they could be. And, as DOC’s enormous deficit shows, the cost of this approach remains exorbitant.

Here’s what DOC’s own recidivism report tells us: About 33,000 inmates are released from Florida prisons every year once they have served at least 85 percent of their sentences — including most murderers, rapists and sex offenders. Meanwhile, about 32,000 offenders are sent to prison each year. Of these “new” inmates, 14,000 — more than two in five — are re-offenders, which means they have created at least that many new crime victims.

Of the 33,000 released each year, only 23.4 percent receive any treatment for underlying issues such as substance abuse or mental health problems. Fewer earn a GED. And only a minuscule number receive some type of government-issued ID card, an important step to landing a decent job.

DOC releases prisoners at 12:10 a.m. each morning with nothing but $50 cash and a bus ticket to the closest city. Yet somehow we expect them to be successful on the outside and maintain law-abiding lives. Is this realistic? Clearly not — yet all of us, as taxpayers, continue to pay for this never-ending cycle in the mistaken belief that doing otherwise would sacrifice public safety. Hogwash!

Since 1985, nonprofit providers have been treating, educating and finding jobs for inmates who are nearing the ends of their sentences. According to DOC’s own statistics, the overall recidivism rate for nonprofits is 18 percent, significantly lower than the 30-percent percent rate of DOC-operated programs. The difference is that nonprofit providers have more intensive treatment protocols while department-operated programs spend much less on the one thing that has proven to be effective: treatment.

DOC pays the nonprofits less than it pays itself, so in order to stay afloat the nonprofits are strongly incentivized to help inmates find jobs so they can then be reimbursed for room and board. DOC-operated programs have no such incentive, leading to higher costs and lower results.

For the 2013 legislative session, the Smart Justice Alliance has proposed a dramatically innovative concept that involves no new tax dollars, a way to help reduce DOC’s deficit to the tune of $15 million, and an evidence-based model that will result in fewer crime victims and lower recidivism. The only real question is why anyone — the governor, the Legislature or the Department of Corrections — would oppose this smart, sensible and cost-saving idea.

Explosive prison growth demands a smarter approach

March 13, 2013  |  No Comments  |  by Barney Bishop  |  Columns

From the Daytona Beach News Journal

Recently two important developments occurred in the ongoing struggle to keep Floridians safe without breaking the bank.

Department of Corrections Secretary Michael Crews disclosed that his department’s annual deficit had ballooned from about $36 million at the start of the fiscal year to more than $95 million. This explosive growth of red ink was based on decisions both within and beyond DOC’s purview, and legislators involved in the appropriations process expressed understandable concern.

The previous day, the Florida Smart Justice Alliance held a press conference to unveil legislation to increase treatment services and work release opportunities for prison inmates preparing to return to society. At the press conference, the question was appropriately asked how this can be accomplished in light of DOC’s huge deficit. The answer is surprisingly simple: By dealing with many inmates’ problems before they re-enter society, we can reduce their tendency toward recidivism — which saves money and reduces future crime victims.

The Alliance has presented a proposal that will not cost any new tax dollars and will in fact save $15 million, money that can be used to help reduce DOC’s deficit. The plan involves closing a $39-million-a-year prison and shifting its 2,100 beds to provide treatment and work release. This would cost taxpayers just $24 million, producing a savings of $15 million and improving public safety by making it less likely those offenders will commit future crimes.

Predictably, there was opposition from those who prefer the status quo. They point out that Florida’s crime and recidivism rates are lower than before, and suggest that our state’s historic “tough on crime” approach has been sufficient. While these rates have indeed showed improvement, they are not what they could be. And, as DOC’s enormous deficit shows, the cost of this approach remains exorbitant.

Here’s what DOC’s own recidivism report tell us: About 33,000 inmates are released from Florida prisons every year once they have served at least 85 percent of their sentences — including most murderers, rapists and sex offenders. Meanwhile, about 32,000 offenders are sent to prison each year. Of these “new” inmates, 14,000 — more than two in five — are reoffenders, which means they have created at least that many new crime victims.

Of the 33,000 released each year, only 23.4 percent receive any treatment for underlying issues like substance abuse or mental health problems. Even fewer earn a GED. And only a miniscule number receive some type of government-issued ID card, an important step to landing a decent job.

DOC releases prisoners at 12:10 a.m. each morning with nothing but $50 cash and a bus ticket to the closest city. Yet somehow we expect them to be successful on the outside and maintain law-abiding lives. Is this realistic? Clearly not — yet all of us, as taxpayers, continue to pay for this never-ending cycle in the mistaken belief that doing otherwise would sacrifice public safety. Hogwash!

Since 1985, nonprofit providers have been treating, educating and finding jobs for inmates who are nearing the end of their sentences. According to DOC’s own statistics, the overall recidivism rate for nonprofits is 18 percent, significantly lower than the 30 percent rate of DOC-operated programs. The difference is because nonprofit providers have more intensive treatment protocols while department-operated programs spend much less on the one thing that has proven to be effective: treatment.

DOC pays the nonprofits less than it pays itself, so in order to stay afloat the nonprofits are strongly incentivized to help inmates find jobs so they can then get reimbursed for room and board. DOC-operated programs have no such incentive, leading to higher costs and lower results.

For the 2013 legislative session, the Smart Justice Alliance has proposed a dramatically innovative concept that involves no new tax dollars, a way to help reduce DOC’s deficit to the tune of $15 million, and an evidence-based model that will result in fewer crime victims and lower recidivism. The only real question is why anyone — the governor, the Legislature or the Department of Corrections — would oppose this smart, sensible and cost-saving idea.

Better handling of non-violent felons in Florida

March 13, 2013  |  No Comments  |  by Barney Bishop  |  Columns

From the Sun Sentinel

The Florida Smart Justice Alliance is promoting legislation this year to enhance public safety while saving millions of tax dollars. Yet special interests have distorted the debate. It’s time to set the record straight.

Non-violent felons make up a significant portion of Florida’s inmate population. Most have substance abuse or mental health problems or both. They’re not hard-core criminals who happen to use drugs; they are drug addicts who commit crimes to feed their habits.

Without the tools to live successfully in the world, these inmates are likely to turn back to crime; 27 percent return to prison within three years.

Smart Justice is about making all of us safer by providing these inmates things like behavioral health-care treatment in prison, help getting a GED, training in job skills and help obtaining a government-issued identification card so they can get jobs. What the Smart Justice Alliance is not about is releasing prisoners early or weakening the requirement that felons serve at least 85 percent of their sentences.

The Alliance recently presented a proposal to the Florida Legislature to provide such treatment. Opponents came out of the woodwork with a barrage of misinformation.

They said these prisoners would not be treated in prisons (false) and that treatment programs would not be staffed with certified law enforcement officers (also false). They said the Florida Department of Corrections would no longer control which prisoners receive treatment (false). They said our proposal is prison privatization (false), and the treatment regimens are not successful (false).

The truth is that under our proposal, all prisoners would be housed in one of three secure state prisons. These facilities, constructed with taxpayer-financed bonds, have sat unused for almost a year.

Unlike what our opponents say, the DOC will still perform each inmate’s initial assessment and determine which felons receive treatment. Finally, critics suggest these ideas reflect a “soft” approach to crime. A plan that steers low-level offenders away from crime and frees up resources to concentrate on more serious criminals is not soft on crime.