Lori Costantino-Brown Bridges of America
SMART JUSTICE COUNCIL (SJC)
Partnering Private Business with the Criminal Justice System
Work release in an available tool that prepares an inmate for a successful return to society while cutting the daily cost to the state by more than half.
In December 2007, AIF created the Coalition for Smart Justice to advocate initially for building fewer prisons in Florida. At that time we had almost 100,000 inmates incarcerated in the state, and the Florida Department of Corrections had plans for 19 more prisons, each costing about $150 million to build and staff – and that was without any prisoners! As Florida’s economy was sinking, the prospect of “build it and they will come” was a frightening prospect to our business leaders; because without a state income tax, the cost for these new prisons was clearly going to fall on the backs of the business community.
AIF, along with the outstanding research work of Florida TaxWatch, understood that unless we changed the paradigm, Floridians and their employers were going to continue to pay unnecessarily high costs to incarcerate a lot of prisoners who might not necessarily belong in prison. That’s because some of these prisoners’ root problem is behavioral in nature – substance abuse, mental health or co-occurring disorders; and when they are released, over a third of prisoners will be right back in prison within three years.
Thus, the Coalition advocates a three-pronged approach to reduce costs and recidivism: (1) provide low-level non-violent offenders with diversion on the front end, to potentially solve their core issues without putting them into prisons where they will associate with more hardened criminals; (2) provide prisoners with literacy training, character-based or faith-based services while in prison; and (3) efficacious re-entry programs on the back-end.
To enhance these efforts, AIF’s original Coalition for Smart Justice has been converted to the Smart Justice Council, a policy council within the auspices of AIF that will now deal with both juvenile justice and corrections issues. Mission: To expand business and community involvement in partnership with all branches of government to effect a transformation of the criminal justice system in Florida. Objective: To improve public safety and reduce state expenditures while improving outcomes from the time of arrest and custody through reentry job placement, thus lowering the financial impact of the criminal justice system on the taxpayers of Florida. Toward that end, the Council proposes to start with the following legislative and regulatory agendas:
Risk Assessment & Cost Analysis – No need for reform is greater than developing the country’s best system to determine just exactly who is in corrections custody. A system must be developed that begins with those arrested and provides information on the accused and fiscal considerations to be considered by the sentencing court. A pre-sentencing risk assessment/cost analysis capability for judges would be a dynamic tool providing information regarding the offender’s potential for community programming and also the comparison between that cost and the cost of incarceration in state prison. Proper evaluations can also identify significant problem conditions prior to incarceration, especially mental illness and serious substance abuse. Diverting appropriate individuals from jail cells into community-based alternatives like the mental health and substance abuse grant programs is a direct savings complimented by a 100% match by local government. Funding for Criminal Justice Reinvestment Grants should continue.
Diversion Beds – There are no diversion beds available in the state of Florida. Hundreds of people are on the waiting lists of various facilities around the state. However, the vast majority of counties have no such facilities. Almost all offenders with short sentences could be in diversion beds if they were available. Diversion beds cost much less and have more than an 80% success rate lowering recidivism. Even with the success of diversion beds, the Florida Legislature has too often cut beds. In 2003, there were 1,967 beds statewide. Today there are 1,061. The objective this session should be to restore the lost beds. The long-term objective should be to preclude judges from using year and a month sentences and require that all such offenders be placed in the appropriate community-based programs.
Transition and Work Release Programs – Work release is an available tool that prepares an inmate for a successful return to society while cutting the daily cost to the state by more than half. Successful participants also contribute to victim restitution, child support and other legal obligations. A final but paramount consideration of all programs that end with the release of inmates back into the community is proper identification which is a predicate to employment and can be used to verify their eligibility for various appropriate government programs.
Privatization of Work Release – The most achievable short-term impact to reduce expenditures and recidivism is the privatization of twenty-one state operated work release centers. FDOC data substantiates the success of community-based work release centers by contrast to those operated by the department. Allowing providers to contract for the operation of the state centers would improve outcomes, but it should also include a major expansion of those facilities.
Juvenile Justice Citations – Youths arrested and drawn into lengthy involvement with the Juvenile Justice system have become a feeder system for Florida prisons. When arrests in schools climb to over 11,000, changes are needed to ameliorate the immediate impacts, but more importantly, to break the cycle of the graduation of youths into state inmates and a lifetime of state custody.
Oversight – Initiatives proven to reduce recidivism and save dollars are obviously most important. However, it is also extremely important to establish oversight of the Departments of Corrections and Juvenile Justice. There needs to be transparency in the operations and program implementation of both departments, to insure programming success and the accurate analysis of results.
Prison is the answer for most dangerous lawbreakers, but public safety and taxpayer’s dollars could be better served by targeting specific types of offenders for other alternatives that will reduce expenditures and lower recidivism. Most significantly, this approach impacts those with substance abuse problems and mental illness.
Advocate for consistent and reasonable contracting practices and offer recommendations for improvement.
Participate in the rulemaking process and develop guidelines for the Council that direct support or opposition to the promulgation of specific rules.
Challenge draconian government policies and procedures and make recommendations that improve and streamline the delivery of outside services.
WHO SHOULD JOIN?
This council will be significant to all those private sector providers of services to law enforcement, the courts, the Florida Department of Corrections and the Florida Department of Juvenile Justice. The Council will advocate for vendors of both faith-based and community-based organizations involved in all aspects of criminal justice.
Sign up today to join with your counterparts and effect positive change throughout the criminal justice system.
Simply click on the link below for more information on how to join the Council: