The Sunshine State’s Prison Problem

It should come as no surprise to learn that Florida’s prison system is a mess, and by more than one measure. Incarceration rates are increasing as crime is decreasing, reports of torture emanate from our correctional facilities, living conditions are often unbearable, etc. — the list goes on.
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Our Palm Beach and Broward County criminal defense lawyers know that Florida’s 56 prisons, of which seven are private (more on this later), house more than 100,000 inmates at any given time. How we treat prisoners and would-be prisoners is not only a reflection on us as a state, but it runs the risk of reversing the slow-down in crime that Florida has witnessed.

There is a seemingly mechanical transition of offenders to prisons in Florida, and that process does very little in terms of “correction.” By tossing wayward Floridians in jail and locking the cell door, we are giving up the opportunity to truly correct and refine behavior.

Just last week, the Florida Senate Criminal Justice Committee convened to discuss how to better the state’s prison system “in the wake of suspicious inmate deaths and allegations of torture and medical neglect by Department of Corrections employees and private contractors.”

To begin with, as our Palm Beach and Broward County criminal defense lawyers at the Law Offices of Leifert & Leifert know, it’s critical to recognize the problems associated with a combination of private contracts and state correctional facilities. The moment that our state’s prisons became (at last in part) private enterprise, the focus shifted from rehabilitation to financial gain. As long as increased revenue is the goal, our our prisons will do close to nothing in terms of rehabilitating offenders in our state.

According to the chairman of the Project on Accountable Justice at Florida State University, our prison system is “too broken for one person, one secretary or one governor to fix.” That should give a sense of how monumental the problems we are facing truly are.

According to a recent, informative piece in the Sun Sentinel, the State of Florida’s prison system is the nation’s 3rd largest, with a budget of $2.4 billion — more than the annual budget of some small countries. As we noted earlier, the incarceration rate in Florida has continued to rise, despite a decrease in our state’s crime rate. Leadership is a problem too — we are currently on our seventh Department of Corrections (DOC) Secretary in only eight years, a fact which indicates a lack of stability and accountability. In terms of living conditions, according to the Florida DOC, the majority of Florida’s state-run prisons are not air conditions, making the situation therein unbearable, especially during the excruciatingly hot summers.

As pointed out in the above-referenced article, some (small) action was recently taken to reverse an injustice in our state’s prison system, but only after a horrible incident. After Darren Rainey — a mentally ill prison inmate — was trapped in a scalding hot shower for hours by prison guards, the former DOC Secretary resigned and 30+ correctional officers (rightly) lost their jobs.

Our criminal defense lawyers at Leifert & Leifert know that when someone is convicted of having violated the law, the most effective route to take is a form of punishment/sentence geared at rehabilitation and education. We should be trying to assist those who have committed offenses as to reduce the rate of recidivism. Funneling Floridians into a broken prison system is not a solution.

If you have any questions about this or any other criminal issue in the State of Florida, or if you have been arrested for or charged with a crime in Palm Beach, Broward or Miami-Dade County, please contact us at 1-888-5-DEFEND (1-888-533-3363) to schedule a free consultation. We look forward to speaking with you.

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