TALLAHASSEE – As the Florida Department of Corrections begins the process of closing seven state prisons this spring, while promising that no inmate will be released early as a result, the state agency is launching a study on the success rate of programs helped at helping felons while they’re incarcerated, and once they get released.
DOC just formed a partnership with the Florida State University Center for Criminology and Public Policy Research, which was awarded a $598,982 grant from the U.S. Department of Justice to conduct a three-year study of the success rates of those three inmate programs: prison substance abuse treatment, work release and post-release community supervision.
Over the course of the next three years, the FSU study on inmates will evaluate “how each program affects the inmates’ subsequent employment and ability to stay out of prison,” DOC noted in a release announcing the launching of this research work.
A cost-benefit analysis will also be done on each program as part of the study, which will collect data from 2000 through 2008.
Ken Tucker, secretary of FDOC, said their aim is to figure out if these programs are actually helping to reduce the recidivism rate among inmates.
“When these studies are complete, we’ll know not only whether our substance abuse treatment and other programs are helping to keep inmates from re-offending,” Tucker noted. “But we’ll also know how much it is costing us or saving us to implement these programs, which will help us make more informed policy decisions going forward.”
Gov. Rick Scott has targeted the Florida Department of Corrections for $1 billion in budget cuts this year, following complaints from Florida residents that Scott and the Legislature cut too much out of the education budget and local schools last year.
Florida now houses 102,000 inmates in 63 state prisons, and supervises more than 115,000 active offenders on community release supervision — the third largest prison system in the nation. But a falling crime rate gives the state a rare opportunity to find savings within the prison system, the governor’s budget report claims.
As a result, Tucker announced late last year that his office would close seven state prisons and work camps by July 1. The list includes several prisons in Central Florida, including the Demilly Correctional Institution in Polk City, the Hillsborough CI in Riverview near Tampa, and the Levy Forestry Camp near Lowell CI in Ocala.
Despite the closings, DOC insisted that no inmate would be released early, and they would be transferred to other facilities that have enough prison bed space available to meet Florida’s existing prison population.
Last year, Gov. Scott cited a reduction in crime in Florida as a reason to make the state prisons operate with more efficiency. He then proposed eliminating $1 billion from the prison budget. The governor’s office is targeting cuts in salaries for DOC employees and reductions in health care costs for inmates, which could include privatizing those services. The governor is also making a push to expand vegetable farms run by inmates — essentially asking those who are incarcerated to grow their own food.
At the same time, in an effort to help inmates being released from prison, DOC has been putting more resources into Re-Entry Programs that help inmates once they get out of prison. Last year, DOC launched a new test initiative in Duvall County, known as a Re-Entry Portal, to create one place where a released inmate could go to tap into any community resources available to help them — everything from a place to live, to job assistance programs and mental health counseling.
Now, the FUS study will help the department determine if programs aimed at the rehabilitation of inmates are having results.
The center is the research arm of FSU’s College of Criminology and Criminal Justice, one of the oldest criminology programs in the nation, and, as DOC noted, “currently ranked number one in the country for faculty research publications and citations. The center has a proven track record of conducting quality research with practical, policy and theoretical implications. The DC’s Bureau of Research and Data Analysis is the highly-respected unit of the department that informs the public, administrators, and policy-makers about the inmate population. They have won numerous Davis Productivity Awards for increasing the efficiency of state government.”
David Ensley, the chief of research and data analysis and the co-principal investigator for the grant, said this study would enhance the partnership between criminal justice researchers and those who are running Florida’s prisons.
“This grant will allow even greater collaboration between the University and the department, allowing each of us to draw upon the other’s perspective, experience, and expertise,” Ensley said.
Dr. William D. Bales, FSU’s co-principal investigator on this project, said there are some important policy implications for the study.
“We are excited about partnering with the Department of Corrections to bring together their correctional expertise with our research talents to produce results that will provide scientifically-based empirical evidence,” he said, adding that this work “will inform the entire field of corrections and the department’s future policy decisions regarding these inmate programs.”
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