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.Texas would be in the same boat if we hadn't begun reforming the probation system in 2007, and more work is needed to keep the prison system afloat beyond the short-term.
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. ...
"Our prisons are growing faster than anything else in our state," said Senate criminal-justice budget chief Victor Crist, a Tampa Republican.
Florida is spending new money for drug courts and diversion programs while putting off opening new prison beds because they can't pay for staffing:
This year's money crunch also prompted lawmakers to abandon plans to bond out $300million in new prison construction in future years.Though in many ways Texas is ahead of the Sunshine State on prison diversion, the Sentinel reports that Florida's budget crunch has caused legislators to take a step that our legislators haven't been able to muster: They've actually ceased passing new criminal penalties because they can't afford new prison beds.
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. ...By contrast, Texas keeps passing bills with increased criminal penalties, seemingly oblivious to the long-term financial costs. For some reason, the cognitive dissonance of passing prison diversion bills at the same time they're boosting penalties doesn't seem to phase our legislators.
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.