A year after Florida closed several prisons to save money, the state says it must reopen some of them because of projections of a growing inmate population, reported the Tampa Bay Times.
The Department of Corrections wants the Legislature to appropriate $59 million to open nine shuttered facilities next year from Miami to the Panhandle, including two prisons, five work camps and two re-entry centers. The prisons, in Raiford and Polk City, were closed in July 2012 and were touted by Gov. Rick Scott as good-news, cost-cutting steps in the budget.
The new 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. They are projected to increase by 2.7 percent next year and 1.4 percent the following year, requiring more than 1,000 new prison beds.
The current inmate population is about 101,000.
Scott, who's seeking re-election in 2014, recently asked state agencies to cut spending by $100 million, but the prison system alone wants $124 million more next year, including money for more officers, new buses and vans, the food service system and an electronic timekeeping system
The sudden shift is reviving the debate over whether Florida locks up too many nonviolent drug offenders who should get treatment, not just punishment. Florida has the nation's third-largest prison system and spends about $18,000 a year on average to house each of its inmates. Nearly three of every 10 inmates are back behind bars within three years.
They're not getting treatment. They're being housed, and I don't know how smart that is," said Sen. Rob Bradley, R-Fleming Island, at a recent hearing of the committee he chairs, which oversees the prison system's $2.4 billion budget.
Scott must decide whether to include the request to reopen the prisons and work camps in the election-year budget he'll send to the Legislature in February.
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