Faith leaders met in Tallahassee on January 30-31, 2012, during Children’s Week. On Monday afternoon they heard presentations on prison reform, tax reform, Medicaid reform, energy reform and immigration reform.
In a nutshell, Florida’s prisons are overflowing with minorities serving mandatory long sentences for non-violent (often drug related) crimes. In the last two decades, the prison budget has risen by two billion dollars. We spend 67¢ on incarceration for every dollar on education. Sixty percent of prisoners are persons of color. Some 46% of prisoners have mental health issues. Over a million ex-felons have no civil rights and are either unemployable or un-employed. Often times their family relationships are shattered. The prison system is a university of crime for young people who should receive pre-trial intervention and alternative sentencing. The drive to privatize prisons is simply the wrong approach. It is the new form of slavery in which corporations make profits on the suffering of people of color.
Please take a moment to contact your state senator and communicate either the letter below or a similiar message.
Dear Senator Haridopolos,
When we review the data on Florida’s prisons from the eyes of faith, we see a desperate need for reform of our criminal justice system, both in its sentencing framework and its rate of incarceration of minorities for non-violent crimes. However, the Florida legislature seems fixed on privatizing prisons as a responsible solution. As people of faith, we respectfully disagree with this focus. Instead, we encourage Senators and Representatives to drop the quest to privatize prisons as presented in SB 2036 and SB 2038.
Privatization of prisons has several problems.
- Immediate cost savings come only by outsourcing the current correctional labor force. In practice this means corrections workers lose their state-paid jobs, only for a smaller number of them to be hired back at lower wages and with fewer benefits. In essence, cost-savings come by putting the burden on the people being paid to protect society. Such outsourcing will depress the local economies wherever it happens and push the lost benefit costs on local resources.
- Fewer correction workers will likely lead to more escaped prisoners. The private prisons will not pursue escapees. Local law enforcement will assume that burden. This represents a shift of expenses from the state to the local municipality.
- The mandates for cost-savings will no doubt lead to a reduction in rehabilitative services, which in turn is likely to drive up recidivism rates. Recidivism rates are already a major driver in the corrections budget.
- The large number of facilities being turned over at one time means a large number of prisoners will be moved in a short period of time. No state has seen such a massive transfer of prisoners at once. Such a procedure is surely expensive, and if these expenses are included in the mandated seven percent cost-savings, it is hard to see how privatization will qualify.
- Private prison corporations have an established record in other states of drafting legislation which increases criminal sentences. Their role as campaign contributors, lobbyists and vendor should not be encouraged or tolerated. Florida already locks up too many people for too long – that is why it spends 67 cents on prisons for every dollar on education.
As a society we need to head in a different direction. Sixty percent of those incarcerated are minorities, and 46% have mental health issues. A prison system is the most expensive of mental health systems; we would do better funding more community mental health. Florida’s prison system has created a permanent “non-citizen” underclass of minority males with broken families, largely unemployable or under-employed.
At the Annual Banquet for Children’s Week, Florida Supreme Court Chief Justice Jorge Labarga presented a clear case for sentencing reform as the major way forward in addressing Florida’s prison crisis. We need changes in parole violation rules and mandatory sentencing. We need more early intervention and alternative sentencing programs. We need to stop sending Florida’s minority youth to the university of crime. They need redirection so they can complete community college. What they do not need to become is a profit center for corporations who make money by locking them up.
Jesus proclaimed in his home town, “‘The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he has anointed me to bring good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim release to the captives and recovery of sight to the blind, to let the oppressed go free, to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.” We pray that the same Spirit would be with you as well.
May the God who blesses the righteous be with you!
The Rev. Russell L. Meyer
Florida Council of Churches
3838 West Cypress Street
Tampa, FL 33607
The Florida Council of Churches is the forum for collaboration and advocacy of the judicatories of the Protestant churches in Florida.