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Right on Crime | March 25, 2011
On Wednesday evening, the Right On Crime campaign launched in Florida, and on Thursday morning, Dominic Calabro and Marc Levin published an op-ed entitled “Right On Crime and Tough on the Bottom Line” in The Tallahassee Democrat. You can read the editorial in its entirety below or you can read it simply by clicking here. Pictures from the Florida launch, which featured Right On Crime Statement of Principles signatory Grover Norquist, can be viewed at RightOnCrime’s Facebook page.
“Right On Crime and Tough on the Bottom Line” by Dominic Calabro and Marc Levin
Floridians pour nearly $3 billion a year into the state’s corrections system, primarily to incarcerate more than 100,000 inmates. What taxpayers get in return is a broken system that too often fails to reverse the cycle of crime. One in three released prisoners re-enters Florida’s corrections system within three years, and 65 percent return behind bars within five.
To address this concern, the Florida TaxWatch Center for Smart Justice is hosting Americans for Tax Reform Chairman Grover Norquist in Tallahassee this week for discussions with state policymakers about the nationwide Right on Crime initiative.
In December 2010, the nation’s conservative leaders launched the Right on Crime campaign to increase public awareness of the truly conservative stance on criminal justice policy. Individuals such as Norquist, former U.S. Speaker of the House Newt Gingrich, former Attorney General Ed Meese, and former federal “drug czar” Bill Bennett are among its strongest supporters.
Historically in Florida, political rhetoric has hindered reform efforts. However, with a crippling $3.6 billion budget gap and a powerful conservative movement rooted limited government, personal responsibility and local accountability, there is a renewed effort to address the inefficiencies in government — including the corrections system.
In 2008, Florida cut education spending by $332 million, while adding $308 million to the corrections coffer. In total, 15 percent of state general revenue funds are used for the criminal justice system. While prisons are vital for protecting the public from violent and dangerous criminals, fewer than 20 percent of admissions to Florida prisons are for such offenses against the person.
If booming expenditures and incarceration rates were the best strategy for making our streets safer, the cost would be worthwhile, but other states are finding that alternative approaches can more affordably reduce crime.
From 2000 to 2007, New York decreased incarceration by 16 percent. During that same period, Florida increased incarceration by 16 percent. Despite lower imprisonment rates in the Empire State, New York’s crime rate fell by twice as much as Florida’s.
Much of that dramatic reduction is attributable to New York City, where data-driven policing and evidence-based practices in probation supervision have become the corrections system’s focus.
If inmates are not properly managed and treated, they are going to come out of prison prepared for a life of crime. We have inadvertently set up some of our prisons to be crime colleges.
Florida’s criminal justice system needs corrections, and conservatives must lead the way toward reform.
When it comes to nonviolent offenders, Right on Crime looks beyond the “lock ’em up and throw away the key” approach.
Today’s criminal justice must transition from a system that grows when it fails to one that rewards results.
Florida has implemented successful education reforms that measure performance and incentivize progress on key benchmarks, and the state must do the same in corrections, holding prisons and probation offices accountable for reducing re-offending, lowering substance-abuse rates, collecting restitution for victims, and transitioning ex-offenders from tax burdens to taxpayers. Probation offices that succeed in keeping more of their supervised offenders on the straight and narrow, thereby saving the state money on prisons, should receive a share of those savings.
In 2005, Texas legislators adopted an incentive-based paradigm that tied probation departments’ funding to the enhancement of supervision strategies and the reduction of the rate at which probationers are revoked to prison. Two years later, policymakers advocated for proven community-based corrections approaches (such as drug courts) in an effort to avoid building more prisons.
Texas’ reforms have saved that state more than $2 billion in prison construction and operation costs over five years. Additionally, from 2004 to 2009, the crime rate fell by 10 percent, reaching its lowest point since 1973.
Currently, one in 31 adults is under some form of correctional control in Florida, and the state’s incarceration rate is 26 percent higher than the national average.
When low-risk, nonviolent offenders go into prison, they often arrive back to our communities as more hardened criminals. Far less costly interventions have proven to better reduce re-offending and promote employment so participants contribute to their communities rather than drain our treasury.
Conservatives are rightly tough on crime, but writing a blank check for any government program without demanding results is in opposition to every conservative principle.
It is time for Florida policymakers to get criminal justice right by implementing cost-effective approaches that have proven to enhance public safety in other states.