Florida Wants to Reopen Closed Prisons

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Either this month or the next, we can expect the latest report from the Bureau of Justice Statistics or BJS that will break down the total correctional populations in all country, state, and federal prisons in America. The most recent report says the population actually decreased in 2011 bringing the 2010 figure—7.1 million adult prisoners to 6.98 million (98,900 to be precise). This means that “2.9 percent of adults in the U.S. (or 1 in every 34) were under some form of correctional supervision at yearend 2011….”

According to The Economist, the US has almost ten times more prisoners than the country with the second-largest prisoner population, our neighbor to the south—Mexico.

In Florida, a state which last year shuttered a number of prisons in order to save money is planning to reopen some of them because of inmate overcrowding. According to The Tampa Bay Times, the “request is based on a July forecast from the state Criminal Justice Estimating Conference showing that even as the crime rate continues to drop, new admissions to the prison system are rising.” Florida Governor Rick Scott—who is up for reelection in 2014—asked the state to cut spending on prisons by $100 million. They responded by requesting an increase in spending of $124 million, citing the need for new facilities and equipment and more corrections officers.

Many critics of this move suggest that Florida is incarcerating non-violent drug offenders who would benefit more from treatment than imprisonment under the state’s harsh mandatory sentences. This argument echoes comments made by Attorney General Eric Holder in August who called the mandatory sentences “draconian.” What remains to be seen is if Walker, whose platform was based on decreasing the size of the state’s budget and workforce, will include the request in his February budget.


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