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May 16, 2009

Notable report on the impact of the prison economy in the Sunshine State

Thanks to this post at Grits for Breakfast, I found this fascinating local article from Florida headlined "Budget reality hits GOP's get-tough-on-crime stance." Here are some highlights:

With the state short on cash and prison beds, Republicans in the Florida Legislature are being forced to reassess the tough-on-crime mentality that has permeated their politics for years.  Florida's prison population cracked 100,000 this year, and state prison officials expect to need more and more prison beds during the next five years as the number of people incarcerated swells past 120,000.

Orange and Pinellas counties led the state in that growth rate in 2008, with Orange's new incarceration rate growing 15.2 percent to 1,868 new prisoners. The single largest category of growth in crimes was burglary, state records show. "Our prisons are growing faster than anything else in our state," said Senate criminal-justice budget chief Victor Crist, a Tampa Republican....

This year's money crunch also prompted lawmakers to abandon plans to bond out $300million in new prison construction in future years.  Rather, to address its prison-population growth, lawmakers ended years of resistance and included plans in the state's $66.5billion budget passed Friday to beef up drug courts across the state.  These courts are designed to find programs for drug users instead of dumping them into the state prison system.

Lawmakers also directed circuit judges to keep more nonviolent offenders who commit lower-level crimes out of prisons.  The spending blueprint even lets the Corrections Department start negotiating with counties and other states to take state prisoners when the department is close to running out of beds....

Lawmakers shied from the normal bills stiffening sentences for sexual predators, drug crimes and other offenses. Another bill to crack down on smuggling illegal immigrants into the country passed only after the penalty was watered down from prison time to a fine.

It's a far cry from just two years ago, when lawmakers rushed to meet Crist's 2006 campaign demand that the first bill he signed be the "anti-murder" legislation that would deny bail to violent offenders and is expected to result in about 2,500 more incarcerations by mid-2011.

"These are tough times, and we can't operate in a vacuum," said Rep. Darren Soto, the Orlando Democrat who carried a failed bill this spring named after an Osceola teen killed by street racers. Because the bill could have led to prison sentences for three-time street racers, it was bottled up in the Senate.  "If we're going to put more penalties into law, we have to be willing to house these folks. And this wasn't the year for it."

May 16, 2009 at 09:32 AM | Permalink


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of course, crime hurts the economy too . . . .

When people's insurance goes up because of increased burglaries etc., I am sure they'll be happy.

Posted by: federalist | May 16, 2009 10:02:07 AM

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