Scott Says Florida's Prison System is too Expensive

Florida has one of the nation's largest prison populations due in large part to the state's strict sentencing laws. Now, Governor-elect Rick Scott says that system is too expensive to maintain. His plan would let some prisoners out before their sentence is up.

Prison time. It's a life more than 100,000 Floridians are living right now.

Lauretta Jefferson can only hope the young man who's accused of shooting her son will be condemned to the same fate.

“I'd rather pay for him to sit in jail than for him to be at home under the comfort of his family, his friends,” she said.

If he's convicted, under current Florida law, that suspect will be required to serve at least 85 percent of his sentence behind bars. It's a mandate championed 15 years ago by then State Senator Charlie Crist.

“I believe in appropriate punishment - I'm Chain Gang Charlie!”

But now the man set to succeed Crist as governor, Rick Scott, could be about to revisit the 85 percent law.

Scott's transition team recommends giving judges the authority to hand down so-called 'split sentences'. Inmates would spend part of their time in prison and the other part on supervised parole.

Critics, including Lauretta, call the approach dangerous to society.

Far from endangering the public safety, the Scott team argues the earlier prisoners are released, the less likely it would be they'd commit a new crime. That's because unlike now, they'd be closely watched by a parole officer.

“Sometimes good politics doesn't always make good policy.”

Rob Weissert with Florida TaxWatch helped craft the recommendation, which was ultimately picked up by the Scott team. He says studies show when a Florida inmate is released right now, chances are better than not they'll wind up back in the system within 10 years. A major factor is a lack of supervision.

“Reducing recidivism is the best way that we can save money, because it means we don't have to build more prisons in the future,” he said. “We don't have to have new facilities. We don't have to staff and we don't have to spend all of that money that we're spending on a system that all it's doing is creating more crime.”

For Lauretta, that's debatable.

“I honestly wish, hope, that he spends the rest of his life in jail,” she said.

She's also hoping the sentencing law doesn't change in the name of her son and countless other victims looking for justice.

The TaxWatch study endorsed by Scott's transition team notes Florida spends $9 million a year on a parole commission, but the commission only grants early release to prisoners who were convicted before the 85 percent law was passed.

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