Entrepreneurship May Be Key to Cutting Prison Costs

Tallahassee Democrat

By Stephany Bittar and Val Rodriguez

Recidivism — the tendency for a formerly incarcerated person to re-offend and return to prison — is one of the most vexing social problems facing Florida and society as a whole. It’s also an economic problem, because housing re-offenders requires higher taxes to pay for larger prison facilities and removes potential workers from the labor force. The most recent report published by the Florida Department of Corrections estimates that Florida’s recidivism rate is between 25.7 percent and 27.6 percent.

In March 2017, Florida prisons held 97,521 inmates. Around 44 percent are imprisoned for nonviolent crimes. Among the primary offenses those 42,909 inmates were convicted of, 35.7 percent were related to drugs and property. This means that there are just over 14,000 inmates serving time for petty drug crimes, incurring a cost of over $280 million a year.

But this understates the social problem. The average sentence for all crimes in Florida is four years. Virtually all current prisoners, except the most severe and chronically violent offenders, will be released. Integrating former offenders back into mainstream society and the workforce is crucial for the community and economy.

In Florida, each inmate costs individual Florida taxpayers $2,083 per year. Around 3,900 of those sentenced for nonviolent drug crimes in Florida are likely to reoffend within an average of three years. Based on the state’s recidivism rate, taxpayers will spend just over $7 million per year to incarcerate them again.

Academic research suggests that recently released individuals are less likely to reoffend if stable employment opportunities are available with income high enough to provide for their families. However, simply providing job placements may not be enough. The Council of State Governments Justice Center suggests formerly incarcerated people must change their behavior in ways that address preconceptions about their antisocial behavior and incentivizes prosocial lifestyles.

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