About 87 percent of the state’s inmate population is expected to be released back into society, and Florida prison officials say it’s important they continue working with those inmates before they become repeat offenders. The Florida Department of Corrections says it’s already seeing proof of that hard work with a decline in the number of inmates coming back to prison over the years.
“Back in 2002, I made the unfortunate decision to drive under the influence,” said Eric Smallridge.
Smallridge was a 24-year-old college student when he says he made the worst decision of his life.
“I made this decision to drive and it turned out two 22-year-old girls lost their life because of that decision. And, so I was sentenced to 22 years in prison for a first offense and it was only by the grace of God, the two families of the victims, came and asked the judge to run my sentences concurrent, which put me in the position now to be a free man,” said Smallridge.
The now 34-year-old says because the families forgave him, he spent about nine years in prison, instead of the 22—And, was released in late November of last year.
Smallridge says he was able to get a second chance and now even has a job. But, he says not everyone gets those opportunities.
“Goodwill gave me that opportunity, but first and foremost DOC [Florida Department of Corrections] gave me that opportunity in work release. And, there’s limited facilities, but I think they’re trying to make that more available to inmates so that when they leave prison it’s not just the $50 they have to walk out with. You have to think about that. Put yourself in that situation, you’ve been isolated from society for a long time. They push you out the front door and tell you to make your way. I’ve been blessed with support, but there are those guys that don’t have that.”
Smallridge is just one example of a Florida Department of Correction’s success story—a former inmate who’s contributing to staying out of the criminal justice system.
“In 2003, the state’s recidivism rate was at 33-percent. And, by 2008, this recidivism rate had dropped to 27.6-percent,” said department Secretary Mike Crews.
He’s referring to what’s called the recidivism rate, or the rate in which a person returns to prison within three years of release.
Crews says the decline in repeat offenders is also contributing to the drop in the number of inmates entering the state’s prison system.
For the year ending on June 30th of last year, the number of people admitted to prison dropped to about 32,000—that’s about 10,000 fewer people than were admitted four years ago.
Crews says it’s proof of the hard work and dedication that the department and other law enforcement agencies have done and continue to do to rehabilitate inmates.
“The department is committed to make sure that we provide the educational programs, vocational programs, whether they’re earning they’re earning their GEDs or their high school diplomas, that we’re providing substance abuse counseling for them, and we’re providing skills and education so that when they get out, they have an opportunity to gain employment, they have an opportunity to earn a living just like you and I do, and they have an opportunity to become productive citizens in this state,” said Crews.
Crews says just a one-percent reduction in the recidivism rate means the state saves about $19 million dollars over a five year period, which is good news for all Floridians.
“We’re able to take those monies and redirect them in other areas that our state is in such need. And, probably the most important factor, less victims. You can’t put a dollar and sense on the number of victims when you think of the trauma and the severity of crimes that most of them are subjected to,” said Crews.
Governor Rick Scott has said he wants to use the savings to give bonuses to prison and probation officers.
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