Money Needed For Likely Inmate Uptick Troubles Some, Given Florida’s Crime Drop

Feb 6, 2014

As Governor Rick Scott continues to tout Florida’s lowered crime rate, some question why he’s putting more money into the criminal justice budget.  It comes as the Florida Department of Corrections prepares for a projected increase in the state’s inmate population.

According to the latest Criminal Justice Estimating Conference, the state’s prison population is expected to soon rise, even though Florida is at a 42-year crime low.

“There’s a projection of 2,700 additional inmates that are anticipated to be received sometime between now and the end of June 2015, and more than half of those are projected to be received in the current year,” said Bonnie Rogers.

Speaking to a Senate Criminal Justice Budget panel Thursday, Rogers, who’s in charge of the Governor’s public safety budget, says those estimates are based on November numbers, but they could change after newer numbers are released later this month.

Still, she says the Florida Department of Corrections needs about $48-million to run two re-entry centers and three work camps.  Senate Democratic Leader Chris Smith says that’s troubling.

“I’m hearing crime is at an all-time low. I’m hearing recidivism is at an all-time low. But, I’m seeing the budget go up and up and up. Could you help me explain to my constituents why," he asked.

Rogers called it a good observation, but says the Governor’s office still isn’t sure, though they continue to look into the issue. She says it’s worth noting, however, that that state’s prison population has fluctuated over time.

“Historically, we were seeing the prison population growth dramatically increase over a number of years. Then, in 2011, we began to see that growth level off and actually decline. Based on that decline, we were able to close excess prison beds that taxpayers were paying for, saving more than $132-million annually. Recently, though, that population began to slowly turn back up. The growth is not very dramatic. But, what we’re seeing is that releases are slowing, and I think that’s probably attributed to longer sentences,” Rogers replied.

Still, Democrats say they still have concerns over what Senate President Don Gaetz recently himself called an “anomaly,” and Gaetz says he too is taking a closer look as well.

Meanwhile, Democrats in both the House and Senate also voiced concerns this week to several of the governor’s budget aides about prison costs.

For more news updates, follow Sascha Cordner on Twitter: @SaschaCordner.