Florida’s Secretary of the Department of Corrections, Mark Inch, is trying to attract attention to significant problems he perceives in Florida’s prison system. Among the facts he’s articulated, Florida's prison system has fallen from a rating of “excellence” to “marginal”. Turnover has been spiking among prison guards leading to shortages and increasingly lower qualified guards being hired. Also, with low compensation, there’s been a dramatic increase in prison guards trafficking contraband into prisons for prisoners. None of that sounds good but then again in the grand scheme of things for Floridians to care about this is probably a low priority unless you have a loved one or friend behind bars.
Secretary Inch’s appeal to the Florida legislature to prioritize the prison system is an appeal aimed broadly as one that has bigger implications outside of the jail cell. First, he points out that 70% of Florida’s inmates have substance abuse issues. If credible programs aren’t in place to attempt to rehabilitate these inmates, the odds of recovery are low. Second, recidivism rates are far higher for inmates who exit a prison sentence under addiction. Aside from attempting to provide assistance for inmates to truly recover or “correct”, in the hopes of becoming a productive member of society, the annual cost of an inmate in Florida is over $19,000. The case could be made it may be cheaper to provide additional assistance to inmates in the hopes of lower prison populations in the future. If ever there were a time to consider changes to further assist inmates, this would be it.
Florida’s incarceration rate is 14th highest nationally and according to a study by Project 180, just over 47% of all inmates are repeat offenders. That equates to about 46,000 inmates. Drug rehabilitation programs reduce recidivism by about 9% and vocational certificates earned while incarcerated reduce recidivism by about 14%. We’re talking between 8,800 to 13,700 fewer repeat offenders if we can maximize those programs. Mark Inch is attempting to raise attention to a perceived problem that’s only getting worse in Florida’s prisons. Based on my initial research into his concerns, he has several valid points that could lead to fewer inmates, fewer crimes committed, more productive citizens and even eventual cost savings.
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