Tuesday, May 13, 2008
Florida State Prison Population Has Grown Twice As Fast As Florida Residential Population
According to the February 2008 Pew Center on the States report, between 1993 and 2007, Florida's inmate population has increased from 53,000 to over 97,000, an increase of more than 83%.
Thus, the population residing in Florida's state prisons has grown at double the rate of Florida's population of residents.
Crime in Florida has dropped substantially between 1993 and 2007, but crime has fallen as much or more in some states that have not grown their prison systems, or even shrunk them, such as New York.
Why has Florida's prison population grown at such a high rate compared to overall population growth? Analysts agree most of the growth has stemmed from a host of correctional policies and practices adopted by the state:
1. In 1995, the Florida legislature abolished "good time" credits and discretionary release by the parole board, and required that all prisoners - regardless of their crime, prior record, or risk to recidivate - serve 85% of their sentence;
2. A "zero tolerance" policy for parole violations and increasing prison time for even "technical violations."
In addition, some observers point to the incarceration of non-violent drug offenders. According to South Florida Sun Sentinel columnist Michael Mayo here, at 20.7 percent, drug offenders make up the biggest segment of the state prison population, according to the state. Of the 3,307 people sent to prison from Broward last year, 537 (16.2 percent) were for cocaine possession, according to the Broward State Attorney's Office.
If the same trend continues, Florida is expected to reach a peak of nearly 125,000 inmates by 2013. Based on that projection, the state will run out of prison capacity by early 2009 and will need to add another 16,500 beds to keep pace. According to Mayo, the upcoming Florida state budget includes $309 million to build three new prisons. That's in addition to the $2.5 billion the Department of Corrections gets for annual operating expenses.
Meanwhile, the May 15, 2008 Florida Bar News laments massive cuts to funding for Florida's judicial branch that could result in 299 full-time court employees (not judges) being laid off. The final court system budget for FY 2008-09 adopted by the legislature sliced an additional $18.4 million and impacts 182.5 positions on top of two previous reductions the court system suffered last year. Calculate the latest reduction to hefty previous cuts since July 1, 2007, and the bottom line for the judicial branch general revenue base budget totals $43,716,419, or a 9.8 percent decline from where the courts started a year ago.The net loss to the salary budget totals is 299 FTEs (full-time equivalent positions) or 6.8 percent of the court system workforce.
Is it possible the budget cuts to the judicial branch might slow the growth in Florida's prison population?