Fla. legislature gives corrections OK to ship inmates to other states
(MIAMI HERALD) Florida, famous for shipping orange juice all over the country, may yet be known for a very different kind of export: criminals.
With the inmate population hovering around 100,000 and the state lacking money to build new prisons, the Legislature has given the corrections department the authority to ship inmates to other states for the first time.
”It’s a safety valve,” says the plan’s sponsor, Sen. Victor Crist, a Tampa Republican who oversees prison spending. “This is not a mandate. It’s a passive safety net.”
Crist said shipping prisoners would be considered only as a last resort to avoid the early release of inmates because of overpopulation. The cost would be agreed upon in talks with the receiving states.
A prison bill (SB 1722) effective July 1 allows the state to ship inmates to state-run or private prisons in other states.
The nation’s largest private prison company, Corrections Corporation of America, houses prisoners from eight states, including California, and has long promoted the transfer idea in Florida, without success. Sen. Crist insists he came to this idea himself and not at the behest of the prison industry.
CCA calls itself ”the leader in out-of-state housing” on its website. It operates 62 prisons and has thousands of surplus beds in other states that it is eager to fill with convicted felons, and Florida has the nation’s third-largest prison system.
A year ago, CCA urged the Legislature to follow 15 other states that export inmates, calling it ”cost-effective.” The idea went nowhere, but that was before the bottom fell out of the economy and the state budget collapsed with a $6-billion shortfall.
”This is not a new issue,” said CCA’s Tallahassee lobbyist, Matt Bryan. “This just gives the state another option to deal with a potential rapid influx of new inmates.”
Bryan noted that building a new 1,300-bed prison costs about $100 million. Next year’s budget will be the first in recent memory with no money set aside for new prison construction.
Exporting inmates may never come to pass because Florida’s inmate population has stabilized in recent months and has fallen below earlier projections. In fact, a new, 3,300-bed prison in rural Suwannee County is built but not yet fully open.
The prison population was at about 101,000 this week and the bed capacity is about 106,000. The population fluctuates daily and is constantly affected by the need to move prisoners who have special needs or for disciplinary reasons.
Corrections Secretary Walt McNeil is not enthusiastic about exporting prisoners. He said it undermines the goal of reducing recidivism by encouraging inmates to build ties to the communities they will return to upon their release from prison.
The new law requires the Department of Corrections to take into account the proximity of an inmate’s family before relocating the inmate.
One possible category of exported prisoners is illegal immigrants. As of June 2008, Florida prisons held 5,523 inmates who were undocumented immigrants in the U.S. About 60 percent were in prison for violent crimes.
PUBLIC VS. PRIVATE
The Florida Police Benevolent Association, a large and vocal union representing corrections officers, also opposes exporting inmates, partly because it would help the private prison industry the PBA has long opposed.
”Our preference would be to build public prisons and keep prisoners here in Florida,” PBA’s David Murrell said. “When you start sending prisoners to other states, you’re asking for trouble.”
According to news reports, Idaho officials last year removed about 300 prisoners from a GEO Group-run Texas prison because of understaffing and lax supervision. In Maine, civil rights groups and inmate lawyers said a plan to ship inmates to Oklahoma was a burden to families and would increase recidivism.
EDITORS NOTE: HERE IS AN IDEA. LETS STOP ARRESTING PEOPLE FOR STUPID THINGS AND LOCKING THEM UP FOR LIFE FOR POT. I CAN GUARANTEE IF THE LAWS WERE FIXED IN THIS CORRUPT STATE WE WOULDN’T HAVE OVER CROWDED PRISONS. ITS ALL ABOUT MONEY, THE PRISON SYSTEM IN THIS COUNTRY IS PRIVATLY OWNED AND OPERATED. WE AS CITIZENS OF FLORIDA NEED TO TELL OUR LEGISLATURE WHAT WE WANT FROM THEM. THE UNITED STATES HAS THE HIGHEST PRISON POPULATION IN THE WORLD, 1 IN 10 ADULT MEN ARE IN PRISON, AND FOR BLACK MALES ITS 1 IN 3. THATS A FUCKED UP STATISTIC, THAT SHOULD SCARE YOU. AND NO, IT’S NOT ALL MURDERS AND RAPISTS, MOST ARE LOCKED UP FOR YEARS OVER STUP DRUG CHARGES, AND OUR TAX DOLLARS PAY FOR THIS. HOW BOUT WE SPEND HALF THE MONEY ON REHAB OR MEDICAL HELP FOR THEM, THE OTHER HALF ON HELPING THE HOMELESS (OVER 1/2 OF WHICH ARE VETERANS), AND LEGALIZE POT AND TAX IT, WE WOULD END UP WITH LESS PROBLEMS AND MORE MONEY.