Reducing prison population could backfire
Florida Times-Union - 3/3/2020
Tallahassee's "cost effective" approach to problem solving is likely to backfire.
There are growing concerns about the homeless, panhandlers and untreated mentally ill on our streets.
Reducing the number of incarcerated is a great idea, if properly implemented.
Based on our first-hand experiences with our schizophrenic son, there are doubts.
These key statistics are well known:
• Florida has one of the largest jail populations, ranking third in the nation.
• There are 99,000 people in state prisons, 53,000 in jails.
• It costs $2.7 billion for the Department of Corrections, 3 percent of Florida's annual budget.
• Very troubling, the U.S. Department of Justice estimates 64 percent of people in jail and 56 percent in state prison suffer from severe mental illness.
• In 2018, Florida reduced the budgets of 33 community reentry programs, including a 40 percent reduction for mental health treatment.
• Maine ranked No. 1 among the states, spending 5.6 percent of its budget on mental health. Florida tied for 43rd, spending 1.1 percent.
• In 1955 there were 340 beds per 100,000 population for the mentally ill. Today, there are just 17 beds per 100,000.
• 1 in 100 suffer from schizophrenia, so there are 1,000 schizophrenics for 17 beds.
These people desperately need our help.
These trends will significantly increase the re-incarceration rate. Early release of many prisoners is being addressed as are proposed reductions in mandatory sentencing.
If we drastically reduce the prison population without proper support programs in place, this cost saving approach will fail. It will overload both private and public organizations working to integrate these people back into society.
And the mentally ill will be in the greatest peril.
Now one county is trying to address this problem.
Sarasota County Commissioners are pursuing the establishment of a special district for mental health care to generate funds for local mental health and substance abuse services.
The countywide district, governed by the commission, would annually assess a tax and distribute the money raised to local service organizations.
Richard and Kathleen Marquis live in St. Augustine.
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