ANOTHER VIEW: Bust Florida’s prison boom
With 4 percent of the world’s population, the United States imprisons over 20 percent of the world’s prisoners. And Florida is Ground Zero for overusing incarceration. The prison incarceration rate roughly doubled from 1978 to 2014, though it slowed in recent years.
Here are some incarceration rates for 2018:
Florida: 833 per 100,000.
United States: 698 per 100,000.
United Kingdom: 139 per 100,000.
Canada: 114 per 100,000.
Are Americans really that crime-addicted or is there something seriously wrong with the system? We say it’s the system.
In recent years, both conservatives and liberals have agreed that America is wasting money on expensive prisons and wasting lives by shunning rehabilitation, substance abuse programs and mental health programs.
One group pushing back is the Prison Policy Initiative, which uses data to make the convincing case that America is overcriminalized. This often is reflected among the poor, the powerless and minority communities.
In its report, “Mass Incarceration: The Whole Pie,” it uses data on those who are incarcerated in prisons, jails or other detention facilities.
One reason for the high rate of incarceration involves high numbers of people being imprisoned before trial. Technically, they are innocent but in reality they are behind bars because they cannot afford to post bail, which causes huge stress on families and job prospects.
“Pretrial detention is responsible for nearly all of the net jail growth in the last 20 years,” reports the Prison Policy Initiativ, saying it makes up 74 percent of all people held in jails.
Now if someone is a flight risk or a clear danger to society, jail is appropriate before trial. But that often is not the case.
Efforts are being made to reduce jail populations where the coronavirus can easily spread. Bail is being reformed or even eliminated in some states, replaced by other pretrial services.
Citations should be used as the default for low-level offenses.
Mandatory minimum laws in Florida have fueled the prison boom. Judges need to have more flexibility in sentencing and more incentives should be given to prisoners to earn early release for good behavior.
The racial impact of criminal justice bills needs to be fully transparent. Lawmakers may be creating disparities without being aware of them.
Sending ex-offenders back to prison for technical violations like probation or parole violations leads to higher costs.
“In many states, incarceration for technical violations is more common than incarceration for new crimes,” according to the Prison Policy Initiative report.
Living in the pandemic provides more incentives to release people from local jails who are not an immediate danger. Police can stop arresting people for “petty” offenses. Prosecutors can release more people under their own recognizance, such as first-time offenders who don’t pose an immediate threat.
People could be released near the end of their sentence as well as people with serious medical conditions or people being held for low bail amounts.
Public safety can be protected and social justice can be improved.