The following is an excerpt from The James Madison Institute’s publication:
Fall 2015, Number 57
Florida Nonprofits Offer Alternatives to Incarceration
By Francisco Gonzalez
Here in the United States – the land of the free – more than 2.2 million people are incarcerated in our federal, state, and local prisons and jails. That represents a 500 percent increase over the past 30 years. It also means that roughly one out of every 100 American adults is in prison or jail. When you add in those on some form of community correction probation or parole, roughly one in 33 adults is under some type of control by the criminal justice system. And if those statistics weren’t shocking enough, Florida has a rate 33 percent higher than the national average, with 524 adults (per 100,000) in prison.
Dangerous offenders need to be removed from society. The safety of our homes and neighborhoods often depends on this. However, our overreliance on incarceration may be, in many cases, failing us. Unnecessary or too lengthy sentences in Florida’s prisons can carry with them heavy costs and unintended consequences of exacerbating recidivism. Prison and jail time is costly to taxpayers and, in some cases, introduces lower-level, nonviolent offenders to a life of more serious crime by mixing them in with more dangerous criminal offenders. Our goal in the realm of public safety should be preventing and reducing crime, reducing recidivism rates, rehabilitating criminal offenders, and helping ex-offenders adjust to being productive citizens and rejoining civil society.
There are numerous approaches to addressing what can be described as the ineffectiveness of over-incarceration of low-level offenders. As appropriate, a host of proven solutions such as expanded community supervision options and diversion programs like drug and mental health courts are effective alternatives and can result in better public safety outcomes, reduced taxpayer burden, while reserving prison and jail for those offenders who pose a serious risk to our safety. Examples of success can be found all over the nation, and an emerging consensus on doing things differently has become a hot topic of national discussion across the political spectrum.
The good news is there are numerous Florida nonprofits that are already engaged in meeting the goals of crime reduction and rehabilitation. In fact, there are too many to cite in this one article. In some cases, these organizations are funded entirely by private philanthropy. In other cases, these programs are run through a mix of private philanthropy and government funding. Because these organizations work with offenders, they are almost always required to work side-by-side with government – mostly because some government agency or official (such as a judge) has to approve offenders’ participation in these alternative programs.
However, it’s important to note that these nonprofit programs did not start with government. They were started by innovative individuals who saw a societal problem that needed to be addressed – and human beings who needed help turning around their own lives – and decided to do something about it outside of the realm of government bureaucracy, and in some cases, outside of the walls of prison. Most are also more efficient, with much smaller budgets than our state and federal budgets use for incarceration and law enforcement. And they are addressing a challenge that is going beyond simply improving public safety, but also reviving the lives of individuals, families, and communities across Florida.
Read the entire article here