May 2018

Advocates Call for Special Session to Address Florida Department of Corrections’ Budget Cuts to Critical Rehabilitation Programs

The Florida Campaign for Criminal Justice Reform (FLCCJR) is calling for a special session to address the $28 million in inhumane and counterproductive budget cuts to substance abuse treatment, transitional housing, community-based reentry services and mental health services announced by the Florida Department of Corrections.

The Florida Campaign for Criminal Justice Reform (FLCCJR) is calling for a special session to address the $28 million in inhumane and counterproductive budget cuts to substance abuse treatment, transitional housing, community-based reentry services and mental health services announced by the Florida Department of Corrections.

Representing roughly 1 percent of the Department’s total budget, these cuts will end programs proven to help incarcerated people transition from prison to healthy, productive lives and prevent them from reoffending. For years, the Department of Corrections, the Scott administration and legislators have turned a blind eye to Florida’s excessive incarceration policies, and the financial strain resulting from over-incarceration should not be addressed by taking services away from those whose rehabilitation will benefit both themselves and Florida taxpayers.

This year, Florida lawmakers failed to adopt cost-saving measures that would have prevented this fiscal crisis, and once again refused to join other states in passing bipartisan, systemic criminal justice reforms. Left on the cutting room floor were bills that would help ensure people charged with low-level and nonviolent theft and drug offenses as well as those with little risk of reoffending are held accountable without receiving unnecessarily harsh and costly sentences. Bills that would have provided compassionate release for people who are elderly or seriously ill were neglected by lawmakers.

FLCCJR partners today issued the following statements in response to these misguided and dangerous budget cuts.

The Department of Corrections budget shortfall is a crisis of this administration’s own making and can be remedied by adopting criminal justice reforms that reduce the prison population, improve public safety and save taxpayer dollars,” said Scott McCoy, senior policy counsel for the Southern Poverty Law Center. “Cutting rehabilitation programs may save money in the short-term, but will cause more harm to Floridians in the long-term. It is neither sustainable nor effective to operate a system that relies on mass incarceration and fails to prioritize rehabilitation. It is time for Florida to follow the example set by a majority of other states and fix our failed criminal justice system by adopting bipartisan, common sense reforms. Until our Legislature implements smarter policies, Gov. Rick Scott must find the funds to operate these crucial rehabilitative programs.

This problem was avoidable, and it will almost certainly happen again if Florida’s legislature continues to ignore reforms that can safely reduce Florida’s incarcerated population,” said Kirk Bailey, political director for the ACLU of Florida. “FDOC’s decision to cut programs that provide essential mental health, substance abuse, and reentry services is likely going to result in higher recidivism in the future. This means more crime, more people locked up, and more taxpayer’s money wasted. It’s past time to actually address the problem by releasing low-risk offenders out of jails and prisons and by focusing on rehabilitation services that allow individuals to safely and successfully return to their communities.

The Florida Legislature failed to enact meaningful criminal justice reform during the recently-closed legislative session,” said Luke Newman, Esq., legislative chair for the Florida Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers. “This failure was compounded by its failure to fully fund the needs of the Florida Department of Corrections. Due to the inadequate level of funding received, the agency has chosen to reduce or eliminate the availability of substance-abuse, mental health and reentry programs which provide protections to non-offending Floridians.  All Floridians, offenders and non-offenders alike, are now placed at a greater risk as the Department has chosen a plan to release inmates who have endured incarceration without receiving the mental health or drug treatment services they need.  The Florida Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers (FACDL) calls upon the Florida Legislature to fully fund these programs and to recognize that mass incarceration, especially while bereft of programs for self-betterment, drains the State’s resources and places all of us at greater risk.    

This current fiscal crisis is the outcome that the Florida Policy Institute and many other criminal justice reform advocates have feared for years,” said Joseph Pennisi, executive director of the Florida Policy Institute. “We have previously called on the Legislature to adequately fund critical health and rehabilitative services and warned of the potential harmful consequences of years of underfunding. We hope that this will be the final wake-up call that lawmakers desperately need to increase funding and commit to sustainable criminal justice reform policies. It’s unfortunate that it had to come at the expense of the well-being of inmates and of communities as successful reentry is threatened. Lawmakers must immediately rectify the Department of Corrections dangerous budget deficit.

We at LatinoJustice PRLDEF have experienced first-hand what these cuts will do to our community members, many who are already leaving prison facilities without mental health assessments and without resources to find transitional housing, especially in the case of women,” said Kira Romero-Craft, managing attorney for LatinoJustice PRLDEF. “What we need is sensible criminal justice reform which will allow for an increase in services to reduce substance abuse, address mental health issues and provide transitional and re-entry housing, not a decrease in the amount of funding allocated by the FDOC to these programs. We must stand firm against these barbaric and drastic cuts that will undoubtedly endanger the lives of folks ensnared by our prison system, increase recidivism rates and imperil our community by eliminating programs meant to rehabilitate individuals in need of services and keep us all safe.

It is Florida Cares position that the FDC announced increase in pharmaceutical budget is largely a result of ignoring the Hepatitis C prison population for years,” said Denise Rock, charity corp. director for Florida Cares. “FDC is now forced to provide testing and treatment to these individuals instead of releasing them into society without treatment to further spread the disease in society. FDC would not be in this position of having to provide prisoners with this expensive treatment had FDC implemented a tattoo program instead of leaving prisoners bored, without programs and in their cells. Further, FDC’s stating it would reduce contracts that include substance abuse services only furthers put the burden on society once these individuals are released without having any substance abuse services while incarcerated. It is time that FDC embrace reasonable solutions to issues before Florida citizens and accept Florida citizens input. We urge FDC to instead of taking steps to find a private medical provider statewide putting money into the pockets of private companies to let Florida take back its medical services, utilize per diem nurses to reduce overtime issues and embrace volunteer medical, nurse and preventative care volunteer programs. This would be a fiscally sound decision.

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