Florida prisons lead nation in releasing unsupervised inmates

Herald/Times Tallahassee BureauJune 4, 2014 

TALLAHASSEE -- Florida leads the nation in the number of inmates who are released from prison with no supervision or support, a new study concludes. The Pew Charitable Trusts conducted a state-by-state analysis of so-called “max-outs,” or inmates who serve their full sentences and are released to the community with no monitoring programs in place. A large number of those inmates commit new crimes, resulting in more victims, and are sent back to prison at enormous costs to taxpayers. “Get ready for a whole lot more of this,” said Allison DeFoor, vice chairwoman of the LeRoy Collins Institute and an advocate for greater scrutiny of how states run their prison systems. DeFoor said that for too long, the criminal-justice system has evaded the kind of results-oriented accountability that education and healthcare must now provide. “It’s too big to rock along without accountability,” DeFoor said. He noted that one of every seven state employees works in the Department of Corrections. The agency said its recidivism rate is declining, but it was 27.6 percent in 2008, the most recent year for which figures are available. That means more than one in four inmates freed from prison is back behind bars within three years. The Pew report spans the period from 1990 to 2012, so it dates from the years when Gov. Lawton Chiles, a Democrat, set criminal-justice policy with a Democratic-controlled Legislature. According to Pew’s findings, max-out rates rose in 23 states during that period and accounted for more than four of every 10 releases in nine states, with Florida having the most. Florida was followed by Maine, Massachusetts, New Jersey, North Carolina, Ohio, Oklahoma, South Carolina and Utah. The fewest max-outs during the same period were in Oregon, California, Arkansas, Wisconsin and New Hampshire. As the study notes, Florida abolished parole in 1983 and imposed rigid sentencing guidelines following passage of a 1995 law that required most inmates to serve at least 85 percent of their sentences.

Since passage of the law known as Stop Turning Out Prisoners, the number of max-outs in Florida has risen sharply, Pew found. The STOP law’s legislative champion was then-Republican state Sen. Charlie Crist of St. Petersburg, now a leading Democratic candidate for governor. Crist’s biography on a state cultural affairs website noted he was named an honorary sheriff by the Florida Sheriffs Association for sponsoring the bill. To reverse the trend, Pew recommends some period of supervised release for all offenders, and tailoring supervision conditions to risk and need. In 1990, Florida released about 12,000 inmates with no supervision, or 32 percent of the offenders released that year, Pew’s report said. By 2012, the max-out rate had risen to 64 percent, resulting in more than 21,000 inmates leaving prison that year with no monitoring. Many are nonviolent inmates who committed drug crimes. For the first time, the Legislature this spring passed a bill that requires the Department of Corrections to provide every Florida-born inmate with a copy of a birth certificate and a state-issued identification card upon release. The prison system also must help those inmates get Social Security cards to ease their re-entry into society.

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