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January 25, 2011

"Florida Senators Look to Texas for Prison System Cuts"

The title of this post is the headline of this interesting local article, which also carries the (somewhat amusing) sub-headline of "But money-saving programs could be too costly in tight budget year."  Here is how piece starts:

Florida legislators were treated to a tutorial Monday in criminal justice, Texas-style. Not so much the death penalty Texas-style justice, but the money-saving, cost-reducing style of the criminal justice system that conservative Texas has become known for since instituting reforms in 2007.

“Texas has a notorious reputation. It’s a tough-on-crime state,” Texas Rep. Jerry Madden, R-Plano, told a joint meeting of the Senate Criminal Justice Committee and Criminal and Civil Justice Appropriations Subcommittee.

But that tough reputation now includes drug and alcohol treatment programs, less stringent penalties for parole and probation violations, and improved mental health care. The reforms stemmed from a desire to save money by reducing the need for more prisons and the political necessity of not appearing soft on crime.

“If your choice is not to build, your choice is either to let them out or to stop them coming in. Politically, you’re not going to open the door and let them out. The only option I had at that stage was how do I slow them down,” Madden told the senators.

Florida senators are wary of losing their tough-on-crime bonafides, but also of finding money for programs that will take three or four years to see budget savings, when the Legislature is facing a $3.62 billion deficit. “We have no money, this year, it’s worse than ever. We have no money now to do preventative programs,” said Sen. Evelyn Lynn, R-Ormond Beach.

But Madden said some reforms -- like initiating progressive sanctions for technical violations of probation (like being late or missing a meeting with a probation officer), and providing incentives for probation offices to keep felons in "the system" instead of sending them back to prison for a technical violation -- can be done with little or no immediate cost.

The Florida Department of Corrections currently has a budget of $2.4 billion and a prison population of 102,000. Business groups and tax-hawk advocates were on hand to applaud the efforts of Texas and Madden. Florida TaxWatch released a study last month recommending the adoption of many of the Texas reforms, which could save the state up to $4 billion.

January 25, 2011 at 11:06 AM | Permalink

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Comments

Ironically, on the day they came to visit, a new budget was proposed eliminating most of the programming credited with Texas avoiding new prison construction.

Also, it's not quite accurate to say that Texas' reforms included "less stringent penalties for parole and probation violations." Instead, they created progressive sanctions to give more options to judges than a) revocation or b) doing nothing. Punishment wasn't reduced so much as the range of options for punishing non-compliant probationers and parolees was expanded. As a practical matter, stronger probation is often more difficult for the offender than sitting out a short incarceration stint.

Posted by: Gritsforbreakfast | Jan 25, 2011 12:30:51 PM

They should look to other systems, who might be doing things "better" and figure out ways to cut costs without jepordizing the safety of citizens.

Posted by: MyFloridaDefenseLawyer | Jan 25, 2011 1:16:33 PM

lol that's ok texas more than makes up for it in the number of lawsuits and payouts to those ILEGALY CONVICTED and released after DNA proved they didn't do the crime...not to mention texas's comittment to executing those who are factually innocent.

Posted by: rodsmith | Jan 26, 2011 1:28:21 AM

Thank you very much for keeping me up to date.

Posted by: Health Blog | Jan 26, 2011 7:05:15 AM

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