TALLAHASSEE — Eager to cut costs in Florida prisons, Gov. Rick Scott is taking a cue from reform advocates and proposing more money to help inmates fight drug and alcohol abuse, improve mental health and learn literacy skills.
The proposal marks a shift in strategy for Scott, who campaigned on cutting the prison budget. Now he wants to redistribute resources in a way lawmakers and reformers have long discussed: to make inmates more productive citizens, so they are less likely to return to prison.
“We’re clearly not ‘correcting’ anything, much less rehabilitating them,” said Vicki Lukis, a member of an agency task force. “The old model is lock ’em up and wait for them to return. … I hope that in a couple of years, we’ll see a very different Department of Corrections.”
In Florida’s revolving-door prison system, one of every three inmates commits new crimes after release and is back in custody within a few years. Decades of tough-on-crime laws have nurtured a large population of hard-core felons, and the Department of Corrections’ recidivism rate carries an astronomical price tag for taxpayers.
Scott wants the Legislature to transfer about 2,000 inmates from state-run prisons to privately run lockups that have empty beds. Scott’s office says that would save $135 million in the first year, and the savings would swell to $216 million due to changes in retirement benefits for agency employees.
The money would pay for re-entry, education and prevention programs. The state spends $2.4 billion a year to incarcerate more than 101,000 inmates at nearly 150 facilities.
Sweeping changes are already under way at the Department of Corrections. The expected dismissals of longtime senior employees began Tuesday afternoon with more than a dozen firings, including Deputy Secretaries George Sapp and Rick Davison, and regional directors Gerald Wasi, Marta Villacorta, Randall Bryant and Beth Atchison.