College tuition cheaper than prison in Florida

February 21st, 2011 by Staff — No country in the world has more people in prison than the United States. According to the Pew Center, at the start of 2008, there were 2.3 million people behind bars in the U.S.

Florida ranks third in the country, with 102,000 inmates in 62 state prisons and seven private facilities.

To lock ‘em up, taxpayers have to pay up.

“Unfortunately, Florida has been a destination, historically, for criminals,” observed Victor Crist, a leading voice on crime and punishment and former chairman of justice appropriations. “Looking back at where we were two decades ago, Florida was one of the leading states in the nation for criminal activity.”

But all that changed when the state imposed tougher sentencing guidelines and imposed longer prison sentences. So as crime dropped, the prison population shot up.

Now there are enough inmates behind bars to fill up Raymond James Stadium, The St. Pete Times Forum, and Steinbrenner Field — combined.

State Senator Paula Dockery is a Republican from Lakeland and a member of the Committee on Criminal Justice, which handles issues and legislation relating to criminal penalties, sentencing and corrections. She acknowledges that the cost of sending a criminal to state prison for one year is more than the annual cost of sending a student to most public universities in Florida.

Actually, it turns out to be cheaper:

The actual price tag per inmate, per year: $19,469.
The University of Florida costs $18,380 a year.
Florida State University is $18,630.
University of South Florida is $19,800.
That includes tuition, books, spending money and housing — all cheaper than sending a convict to the big house.

“It’s actually fairly inexpensive compared to other states,” said Senator Dockery.

According to the latest published figures, most states spend more per inmate than Florida.

California, with the largest prison population in the nation, spends $49,213 per inmate, per year.

Texas holds second place in prison population, but holds down the cost at $15,527.

“I happen to think that Florida and Texas have a lot in common,” said Texas Representative Jerry Madden (R-Plano) at a hearing before the Budget Subcommittee on Criminal and Civil Justice Appropriations on January 24, 2011 in Tallahassee.

Florida lawmakers also believe the two states have a lot in common, which is why Madden was invited to the State Capitol.

“Don’t build new prisons; they cost too much,” Madden told Florida Lawmakers. He says the first challenge is to move out the mentally ill and non-violent offenders.

Madden believes they are better off on work release programs.

“If somebody is a drug addict, break their habit,” Madden told lawmakers.

According to the Florida Department of Corrections, 52 percent of the prison population is classified non-violent. Nineteen percent are in for drug offenses, and 23 percent have committed property crimes.

Senator Dockery agrees and says a lot of what Texas has done, Florida has talked about doing.

Now she says it’s just a matter of implementing the ideas.

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