Pubdate: Sun, 07 Jan 2007
Source: Palm Beach Post, The (FL)
Copyright: 2007 The Palm Beach Post
Author: Vicki Lopez Lukis
Note: Vicki Lopez Lukis, a resident of Coral Gables, was chairwoman 
of the Governor's Ex-Offender Task Force.
Bookmark: (Incarceration)
Bookmark: (Treatment)
Bookmark: (Crime Policy - United States)


Nearly 90 percent of the inmates in Florida prisons will be released 
back into our communities. But at current rates, more than a quarter 
of those released will be back behind bars within three years, after 
committing new crimes and creating new victims.

Those were the findings announced by the Governor's Ex-Offender Task 
Force in its final report, which was issued in November and reported 
on by The Post last month. The report concluded that the costs 
imposed on our society by such rates of ex-offender recidivism - 
repeat crimes, followed by repeated prison time - are unacceptably 
high, and astronomically expensive.

Of the 31,000 inmates released from Florida prisons last year, an 
estimated 8,105 will return to prison for new crimes within three 
years. The cost of incarcerating so many inmates for a single year is 
nearly $148 million, excluding capital costs, court costs and costs 
to local governments. If each of those inmates receives the average 
4.6- year sentence, the cost to Florida taxpayers will exceed $670 million.

Yet no one can calculate the human costs that ex-offender crimes 
impose on average Floridians. The life of Martin County resident 
Katherine Burns was forever changed by an ex-offender who in prison 
had been prescribed anti-psychotic medication to treat bipolar 
disorder. Released from prison without guidance or resources to 
continue his treatment, he relapsed into a manic-depressive psychosis 
and murdered Ms. Burns' stepsister and best friend, Susan Jane Martin.

"My sister was a victim not only of this man but of a system that 
failed to prepare him to reenter society safely," said Ms. Burns, now 
a dedicated victims' advocate. "We can only guess how many Floridians 
would be spared from such tragedies if the state did a better job 
rehabilitating ex-offenders."

To respond to this crisis, the task force outlined several 
recommendations to protect public safety and save lives.

First, the Department of Corrections should commit itself to 
explicitly address the successful reentry of ex-offenders into 
society. To measure its effectiveness in meeting this goal, the 
department should institute performance measures for its facilities, 
wardens and staff to assess its work in assisting successful 
ex-offender reentry. It should also address recidivism rates in the 
performance standards it specifies in privatization contracts.

Next, the Department of Corrections should improve and expand job- 
training and substance-abuse treatment programs for prisoners. 
Research has proven that these programs make inmates better behaved 
while they are in prison and less likely to commit crimes after they 
are released. However, money for such programs vital to reducing 
recidivism rates - by keeping ex-offenders off drugs and making them 
employable - has declined over the past five years, even as the 
state's inmate population has increased 18 percent. This trend must 
be reversed if we are to successfully reduce ex-offender recidivism.

Finally, the Department of Corrections should begin pre-release 
planning with inmates, starting on their first day of incarceration, 
especially for inmates serving brief sentences, and it should develop 
individualized reentry plans for each inmate.

Too often, we put ex-offenders back on the streets with no plan for 
them to successfully reenter the community - no home, no job 
prospects, and no support. Then, even if they want to go straight 
after they are released, they're pulled back into the crowd that got 
them into trouble, and sooner or later, they end up back in prison.

Developing a support plan for ex-offenders would not be big 
government, it would be smart government that prevents crime. We 
cannot continue to release people from prison who are unprepared to 
return to society and succeed in living a crime-free life, and we 
cannot continue to fail our communities by leaving them unprepared to 
help ex-offenders succeed.

We can stop the revolving door and ensure that fewer ex-offenders 
commit new crimes. Undoubtedly, enacting these recommendations will 
cost money, maybe even tens of millions of dollars. But with Florida 
paying $670 million to lock up each year's class of repeat offenders, 
we can't afford not to make a change.
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MAP posted-by: Richard Lake