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News (Media Awareness Project) - US FL: Editorial: State Prisons Need Drug Treatment Alternative
Title:US FL: Editorial: State Prisons Need Drug Treatment Alternative
Published On:2011-10-30
Source:Sun-Sentinel (Fort Lauderdale, FL)
Fetched On:2011-11-01 06:00:42

State Sen. Ellyn Bogdanoff, R-Fort Lauderdale, and state Rep. Ari
Porth, D-Coral Springs, are at it again. The two lawmakers are trying
to pass needed, positive legislation to help the state of Florida
reduce the costs of operating its prisons. Lawmakers ought not to miss
the opportunity to do so -- again.

The legislation -- CS/HB 177 and SB 448 -- establishes a re-entry
program for nonviolent offenders that offers intensive substance abuse
treatment, adult education courses and vocational training as
alternatives to long prison sentences. The idea is to reduce
recidivism, which is essential if state officials want to get a handle
on the costs of incarceration.

If the legislation sounds familiar, that's because it was part of a
more ambitious bill the two lawmakers filed last year. That bill also
included a provision to overturn mandatory minimum drug sentences. The
effort promised to be worthwhile given the inflexibility in drug
sentencing that ends up locking away men and women who could benefit
from less expensive alternatives, like probation and drug counseling.

Maddeningly, that bill died in the recent session of the Florida
Legislature as lawmakers preferred to cut other programs and services
rather than save money through pragmatic changes to sentencing laws.

In the meantime, Florida's prison costs are again drawing ire in
another tight budget year. State Department of Corrections officials
should vocally back measures, like Bogdanoff's and Porth's bill, that
will save money and reduce recidivism. The Legislature should act on
any responsible proposal to ensure prison operating costs are
excessive, which should be a no-brainer given the revenue estimates
that show the state could run a projected deficit approaching $2 billion.

There are just over 101,000 inmates in Florida's prisons. According to
a recent tallies, it costs $19,469 a year to house, feed, clothe and
care for each inmate -- and the average stay is about five years.

If the Bogdanoff-Porth bill becomes law, nonviolent offenders who
prison officials identify as needing substance abuse treatment and
have served at least half their sentences would be eligible to
participate in a re-entry program that lasts at least three months. If
the inmate successfully completes the program, a judge will modify the
sentence and place the inmate on drug-offender probation. Any
violation of probation results in the imposition of the original sentence.

The legislation deserves full vetting -- and quick passage if no
major objections are raised. Unlike prison privatization and the more
controversial ideas to cut state prison costs, the re-entry program is
a simple solution that promises both savings and a much-needed
reduction in the state's ongoing recidivism problem.
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