Coalition for Smart Justice wants reform of correctional system listen07/02/09 SeÃ¡n Kinane
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Last month a group of state leaders sent an open letter to Florida Governor Charlie Crist, the Legislature, and the people of the state asking for major criminal justice reform. The group, calling itself the Coalition for Smart Justice says that in Florida, there are â€œtoo many non-violent individuals being incarcerated, too many prisons needing to be built at astounding public cost.â€ They propose transferring funds to education, substance abuse, and mental health treatment programs instead.
Steve Seibert is senior vice president and director of policy with the Collins Center, which released the letter.
â€œThe systemâ€™s not working. Weâ€™re creating kind of a culture of crime committers."
One signatory of the Coalition for Smart Justice letter is Dominic Calabro, president and CEO of Florida Tax Watch. He criticized Governor Crist for proposing - during the last Legislative session - the construction of three new prisons.
â€œSo in ten years, thatâ€™s well over, you know, more than a billion dollars. â€¦ So weâ€™re saying, â€˜letâ€™s put our money in a front end, not at the back end, â€¦ doing something that saves money, saves taxpayers, saves the community tremendous harm to people and property.â€
Associated Industries of Florida represents business interests in the state. Their president and CEO, Barney Bishop, signed on with the Coalition for Smart Justice because switching priorities from incarceration to treatment could help people become productive members of society and at the same time save tax money.
If they are in programs that are alternatives to prison, Bishop says offenders can learn life skills.
Three former Florida Attorneys General signed the Coalition for Smart Justice letter, as did a former Department of Corrections Secretary. Another group that signed is the Florida Catholic Conference. Sheila Hopkins is their associate director for social concerns and respect life.
Hopkins praised faith-based programs - like those at the Wakulla County correctional facility â€“ and social programs in prisons.
Florida Department of Corrections spokesperson Gretl Plessinger says their Secretary, Walt McNeil, supports many of the goals of the Coalition for Smart Justice.
â€œSecretary McNeil agrees that our prison population is too high â€“ weâ€™re having to build too many prisons. Part of that is our recidivism rate."
But Plessinger says the state Legislature has not provided much funding for those programs and they have to rely on volunteers. The Collins Center plans to hold a Justice Summit in Tampa on November 16th and 17th.