One day, hopefully soon, common sense is going to trump law-and-order zealotry as a strategy for developing criminal justice policy in Florida. I say that after reading Steve Bosquet’s column in the June 25 edition of the Tampa Bay Times headlined: “Prisoners released lacking even an ID.” (http://bit.ly/11FK08t)
Bosquet reported that every day, as many as 100 inmates of Florida’s prisons are released after completing their sentences. They leave with a change of clothes, a one-way bus ticket to the place from which they were sentenced, and $50. Many lack an indispensable item to transition into the real world: a photo ID, Bosquet reported. As a result, they become trapped “in a desperate spiral that leads to more crime and more prison time – at a huge cost to taxpayers.”
A bill that would help inmates track down birth certificates needed to get photo IDs failed to pass in the recent session of the Legislature, Bosquet reported. A similar bill was passed in 2011, but Gov. Rick Scott vetoed it. And the reaction of the chairman of the House Criminal Justice Committee, Rep. Matt Gaetz, R-Fort Walton Beach: “…I’m not in any hurry to speed up people getting out of jail,” according to Bosquet’s article.
Is it any wonder that roughly one-third of inmates released upon completion of their sentences return to prison within three years – creating what Bosquet called “the revolving door of recidivism”? Without an ID, how is an ex-inmate going to open a bank account, apply for jobs, find housing, register for college or training?
Why does this dismal report give me hope for common sense? Because not everybody is as stuck in the law-and-order mentality of the ‘80s, as Rep. Gaetz seems to be. As I previously reported, some politicians and pundits get it on prison reform – and not just the traditional bleeding-heart liberals. Conservatives are taking a smarter approach to incarceration than “Lock-‘em-up-and-throw-away-the-key.” Even direct-mail guru Richard Viguerie came out recently for prison reform in an op-ed in the June 9 New York Times (http://nyti.ms/11Owafm). Similar views on the causes of recidivism came from our Feb. 6 forum titled “Does Incarceration Reduce Crime?” an initiative of the Project on Accountable Justice, of which the Institute is a partner (http://bit.ly/11pzF0a).
Hopefully, more policy-makers will join the common-sense bandwagon when the Project on Accountable Justice compiles the data that will provide guidance to the Legislature for new efforts at prison reform in 2014. Bosquet reported that Rep. Dennis Baxley, R-Ocala, one of the Legislature’s most conservative members, will try again next year to help freed inmates obtain state IDs. As he quotes Baxley, “We’ve got to do more than just incarcerate people.”
David Klement, Executive Director
Institute for Strategic Policy Solutions
St. Petersburg College