Powerful business pushes for early release of some prisoners

02/23/09 Mitch E. Perry
WMNF Drive-Time News Monday | Listen to this entire show:

A powerful organization is calling for the state of Florida to stop the construction of three new prisons – expected to cost a total of $300 million – and instead early release nonviolent inmates instead.

It’s not a liberal advocacy group, but instead Associated Industries of Florida, a powerful business lobby, making the proposal.

Barney Bishop is with the group calling for the early release of 3,900 prisoners. Bishop says the state doesn’t have the $300 million, so some people are suggesting that the state issue bonds. But he says that’s not feasible.

Bishop suggests sending undocumented immigrants to their native countries. He wants to look at white collar criminals, and perhaps those imprisoned for marijuana use.

Bishop says contrary to what’s been reporting elsewhere, he is not advocating for anybody guilty of violent crimes be given early release.

Sen. Victor Crist chairs the Justice Appropriations Committee He says the idea of early release is dead on arrival.

However, Crist says he agrees with Bishop that he doesn’t want to build any new prisons either. He has a number of ideas on how to contend with the prison population. Oner option Crist said would be looking at less expensive housing throughout the state that have been either shut down or discontinued.

Mark Mauer is executive director of the Sentencing Project based in Washington. He says the fiscal crisis has encouraged many states around the country to take several steps to taking a serious look at early release as a way to save money and reducing prison population.

In California, earlier this month, a panel of three federal judges issued a tentative ruling that it must reduce its state prison population by more than 55,000 to relieve intense overcrowding and poor medical and mental health care.

But Maurer says that, even before the fiscal crisis hit center stage, there had been a movement within the states on taking a less ideological and more evidence based thinking.

WMNF also attempted to speak to officials with the state’s Department of Corrections. They informed us that they have yet to see AIF's proposal on paper. They said they would comment once they review it.

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