A NEW APPROACH TO FISCAL AND SOCIAL SANITY IN CORRECTIONS
by Ike Griffin and Hugh MacMillan
Florida’s prison system has now surpassed 100,000 prisoners. The cost to operate Florida’s Department of Corrections (DOC) is now over $2.25 billion and billions more spent on new prison construction over the past decade. The DOC has been the only department to receive significant increases from Florida’s General Revenue Fund during the past three years.
Florida’s DOC reports that, in 2002, 12,700 (44%) of the almost 29,000 new admissions to its state prison system had previously been in prison in Florida. At this rate, the almost 42,000 new admissions last year (2008) had over 18,400 with previous Florida prison experience. At a cost of $20,000 annually, these repeat offenders cost almost $370 million per year and yet provide virtually no assistance to their community or families.
So, how do we get a greater percentage of our prisoners released into productive citizenship within the community while still looking to security for the populace?
Answers may be found in the highly successful faith and character based residential prison programs, first established in 1999, themselves an outgrowth of Kairos Prison Ministry, begun in 1976 at Union C.I. near Jacksonville. Founders of Kairos had a motto, “there is nothing wrong with prisons that the prisoners cannot fix.” What they need is guidance. Guidance comes from the volunteers, who supervise the untapped resource of prisoners hungry to better themselves, and both (volunteers and motivated prisoners) are abundantly available, as proven by successful models in more than 10 Florida prisons.
Tens of thousands of concerned citizen volunteers in Florida have been trained to address the needs of the state's prisoners. Training has been done by Kairos Prison Ministry International, Prison Fellowship, and many other organizations whose efforts provide life changing programs in Florida prisons. On the outside, scores of residential transition and day-care organizations have worked with Community Corrections to deliver services related to re-entry into society but they generally lack linkage with purposeful preparation for release inside the prison.
Horizon Communities Corp. is a not-for-profit corporation established by Kairos Prison Ministry to sponsor and support programs in prisons to prepare inmates for reentry to society. Pilot reentry programs established at Tomoka Correctional Institution (November, 1999) and Wakulla CI faith & character-based facility (November, 2006) have built a considerable record, utilizing community volunteers and inmate facilitators who work with a difficult inmate population. Florida Department of Corrections and Horizon have worked together to build a program that has been free of legal challenges, and successful in recruiting volunteers from among the state’s faith communities as well as service and community organizations.
The presence of community volunteers, coordinated by Horizon staff, inside the prison creates a multiplier effect, increasing transition program opportunities in a secure environment. At Tomoka CI and Wakulla CI inmates help to create and deliver effective education and transition programs. Job preparedness, citizenship, life-mapping, credit& debt management, life-skills, dependency problems, parenting, anger management and computer literacy comprise the core curriculum. The Horizon Computer Lab is a key resource. There, inmates who have never touched a computer gain basic skills necessary to successful re-entry. Others with skills and abilities help create new course materials, publish an institutional newspaper and support other related programs within the prison.
Horizon efforts and activities augment and support core Education and Chaplaincy program missions within the prison, utilizing volunteer and inmate manpower rather than professional staff. Horizon’s stated mission is to teach inmates to live responsibly with others, and Horizon programs are currently active in Florida, Ohio, Texas and Oklahoma.
Working closely with The Florida Department of Corrections, Horizon proposes to expand transition preparation programming into enough prisons to reduce the annual violation-return inmates (recidivists) by one half. The Florida Parole Commission estimates this number in the range of 12,000 annually, a potential cost savings of $162 million a year. The basic contract cost is $53,000 per institution per year. Horizon programs represent effective program models that can serve as a starting point for significant improvement in public safety and a system of corrections that corrects.
The status quo in Florida is not acceptable. At the present time Florida is faced with building two new prisons to house expanding prisoner populations at a cost of more than $100 million per unit and another $30 million per unit per year to operate. Two new prisons would house approximately 3,000 inmates, costing $86,000 per bed construction cost and $20,000 per head annual operating.
The February 28, 2008 Pew report on incarceration points to Texas as an example of programming as a means to reduce prison populations. Florida has been a pioneer in building a better foundation for this than any other state and should look in the same direction.
Using evidence-based programming, Horizon and other program providers would partner with Florida Department of Corrections, providing programs within a budget reduction plan featuring the following components:
• Each major prison in Florida (those of more than 800 beds) would maintain two transitions coordinators; one to work inside the prison as a program coordinator, and the other to work as a community resource coordinator. It is important that these be contract positions because:
1. The contract position makes it easier to solicit time, talent and materials to be donated by the local community.
2. The contract position offers better acceptance by the inmate population. Some inmates find it a challenge to accept anything as good from the administration, no matter how it is packaged.
3. Their work will be limited to transition activities, and they should not be subject to other institutional objectives beyond observance of good security policy.
4. It is cheaper. Contract transition coordinators are motivated by successful outcomes rather than by level of compensation, policy, etc.
• Expand faith & character based prison capacity to 10,000 beds, or at least ten percent of the Florida inmate population.
ïƒ˜ Recidivists, particularly technical violators, should be sent to these heavily programmed faith & character-based prisons (Wakulla C.I. model) where they could address issues that caused them to fail.
ïƒ˜ Prisons so designated should be close to metropolitan population centers, taking advantage of available volunteers and services.
ïƒ˜ Per inmate cost for broad community-based programming should be done for less than $100 per year.
ïƒ˜ Subsequent release should be goal-oriented rather than time-specific. They could be released upon demonstration of having successfully addressed their failures.
• Expand the residential re-entry dorm model at Tomoka C.I. to other institutions where feasible.
ïƒ˜ Increase capacity state wide for voluntary intensive residential self improvement programs for those prisoners motivated to improve themselves.
ïƒ˜ Put a significant percentage of those eligible for release through intensive residential transition preparation programs involving anger management, cognitive renewal, adult basic education classes, parenting skills programs, and classes on financial management, family relations, employment skills, basic computer literacy and citizenship training.
ïƒ˜ Inmates not eligible for release may be trained as facilitators and tutors, thus adding meaning for their lives.
ïƒ˜ Results in more positive prison environments.
ïƒ˜ Horizon can recruit and supervise minimum stipend coordinators for each prison.
With these programs in place, the State Legislature could justifiably consider the decision reduce the minimum time served from the present 85% of sentence to 75% and eventually to 60% and allow prisoners who have participated in intensive programming to improve their ability to successfully reenter society to “earn” gain time through education (particularly those who have gained a GED and job training), substance abuse and other social behavioral changes, and who have established a positive support group in the community to which they will return.
Moving offenders out of prison and into society pays from both sides of the fence. While in prison, inmates are provided health care that is fully paid from general revenue funds of the state. However, when the probationer is placed in a community setting and if qualified for Medicaid, he or she is only drawing down one-half or less from state general revenue funds and is actually helping to maximize federal funds.
Offenders also perform community service work as ordered by the court or made part of their probation agreement. An offender who is under supervision provides public service work in the communities where she/he lives in the form of community beautification projects, construction assistance, work or services for public agencies such as the Red Cross, libraries, United Way and many other areas. Approximately 920,000 local and community service hours were reported during fiscal year 2006-07.
Even at 2006’s minimum wage of $6.40/hr, the cost savings were almost $6 million.
Community outreach should become a goal of every Florida prison. Every institution houses inmates, repentant of their crimes, who cannot be released and yet seek opportunity to demonstrate restitution to society. The Ohio Department of Rehabilitation and Corrections offers an annual award to the prison accumulating the most community outreach hours. The Horizon residential dorm program at Marion C.I. ensures that Marion C.I. is the perennial winner.
The Center for Florida Fiscal & Tax Reform has encouraged the Florida Legislature to look at programs that bring the public and private sector together, involving both for-profit and charitable organizations with state and local governmental public safety agencies, and look to develop the state’s economy rather than waste its resources on providing housing, medical and other services to non-violent individuals who have fallen afoul of the law. Certainly, the state needs to protect residents from the violent and anti-social behavior of sexually depraved and/or criminally bent violent criminal. Yet, many people in prison are non-violent offenders who have abused substances, gone with the “wrong crowd,” and lack the family structure or education to be successful without direction and support.
The key to correction reform is lowering the rate of recidivism; that is, the return (and repeated return) of former criminals to the prison system.
The rehabilitation of many non-violent offenders to productive lives in their community makes economic and fiscal sense, and is socially the right thing to do. DOC reports a 30 percent recidivism (readmission to prison) rate three years post-release. The figures for re-offense recidivism are closer to 40% three years post-release and 50% five years post-release. Every indication shows that the outcomes at Wakulla C.I. and Tomoka C.I. are at least twice as good as “business as usual”.
These programs and other similar programs can build an environment that encourages links to the communities to which the ex-prisoners will return. Study after study show how states are succeeding. These studies are cataloged in Re-Entry Partnerships: A Guide for States, Faith-Based and Community Partnerships just published under the leadership of our own State Senator Stephen Wise in his role on the Board of the Council of State Governments Justice Center.”
Ike Griffin, founding partner of Griffin Holder Company, headquartered in Colorado, remains the largest shipper of onions in the U.S. Executive Director of Kairos Prison Ministry International, 11 years: 1990 through 2000, President and Executive Director of Horizon Communities in Prison
Hugh MacMillan, partner in MacMillan Company, a public interest governmental consulting firm, is the Florida coordinator for Horizon and represents the organization pro bono in Tallahassee.