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"Smart Justice" Reform Proposal Unveiled

Sascha Cordner

Lowering the chances of former inmates going back to prison is the goal of a new proposal filed in the Florida Legislature. State lawmakers are partnering with business backed group, Florida Smart Justice Alliance, to rehabilitate nonviolent inmates to reduce the number of crimes.

When an inmate gets released from prison, the general assumption is they normally get $50 and a bus ticket and are thrown out into society.  But, under a new proposal, lawmakers are aiming to change that for eligible non-violent offenders serving the last few years of their sentence.

Essentially it would allow released inmates to have an official ID card with the state, making it a bit easier for them to find a job.

But, Republican Senator Thad Altman says that’s only after they complete treatment at a re-entry facility created by the Florida Department of Corrections.

“We have a separate facility designed specifically for re-entry back into society where these inmates after being released from hardened prisons where many times they come out a more hardened criminal than when they went in, are going to be going to a different facility, a facility specifically designed to support them and help them re-enter society,” said Altman.

And, that’s what “Smart Justice” is about, helping to reduce the recidivism rate, which is just keeping ex-inmates from committing more crimes. Altman, the bill’s Senator sponsor, has been working on the “Smart Justice” proposal with Republican Representative Dennis Baxley, the bill’s House sponsor.

“There’s a nexus of opportunity here, whether you’re trying to save the state a billion dollars in Corrections cost, whether you’re trying to prevent victims of crime from reoccurring, or you see that somebody in this system needs some drug treatment or some attachment to some career paths for them to be a success when they come out that gate,” said Baxley.

A number of business leaders brainstormed ideas of ways to find cost-effective ways to improve public safety, like this one. They call themselves Florida Smart Justice Alliance.

The group’s President and CEO Barney Bishop says while he acknowledges recidivism rates are dropping, Bishop says there’s still more work to do in rehabilitating these inmates—pointing to the Florida Department of Corrections’ own data:

“Two out of five new inmates are reoffenders. Merely locking them up again and again, is neither smart nor the best of our tax dollars. Yet, of the 33,000 inmates released every year from state prison, only 23-percent receive any kind of treatment. That’s fewer than one out of four,” said Bishop.

Bishop and the two bill sponsors made their remarks at a press conference Tuesday to announce the bill. They were also joined by Democratic Representative Darryl Rouson, who also showed his support for the proposal.  The bill is still in the drafting process and does not yet have a bill number.

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