By Marielisa Martinez and Joslyn Simmons
Some 98,000 adults call a Florida prison their home in a state that incarcerates more men and women per 100,000 people than 42 other states in this country.
It’s a prison system that has seen its share of violence and corruption, University of North Florida criminology professor Dr. Michael Hallett said.
It’s also a system that has seen its budget change very little over the past seven years. The $2.3 billion DOC budget allocated by the state in 2015-16 is less than was the budget allocated in 2010-11.
This year’s budget is only a bit higher at $2.4 billion. And although correctional officers got a raise this year, prisons are still understaffed.
“The FDOC is in massive crisis,” Hallett said. “It is something you really can’t believe unless you experience it.”
Who’s in the prison system? Here is the breakdown, according to the Florida Department of Corrections.
- Inmates range from as young as 15 to 95. In Florida, teen-agers can be tried as adults and sentenced to adult prison as young as 14.
- Some 93 percent of the inmates are men, compared to 7 percent of women in the prison system.
- Of the total Florida prison population, 55 percent of inmates were convicted for violent offenses.
- Drug-related crimes have been committed by 14.5 percent of inmates.
- Some 55 percent of the inmates are serving sentences for violent offenses.
To accommodate the prison population, the Florida Department of Corrections divides itself into four regions that contain 145 correctional facilities throughout the state, including 15 set aside for women.
Seven of the prisons are run by private companies and under contract to the FDOC. In addition, private contractors provide mental and physical healthcare for all the state’s prisons.
Inmates are housed according to five custody levels that capture how much security an inmate needs. Criminal history and the inmate’s history of violent crime are some of the variables that affect a person’s custody level.
Custody levels go from the least restrictive, known as community, where inmates are allowed to work outside the facilities to the most restrictive level, known as maximum, which includes inmates housed on death row.
Florida State Prison is one of the most restrictive prisons. It houses prisoners from all five custody levels and it’s one of the few that offers maximum security.
At the other end of the security spectrum are places such as the state’s Work Release Centers. They offer rehabilitating and educational services for inmates with two to three years of time left on their sentences who are classified with needing minimum security.
Some of the facilities were built in the early 1900s and used as work camps before being converted into modern day prisons. In most state-run institutions, facilities are bare-boned. There is no air conditioning, hot water is limited, plumbing can be a problem and many have roof problems.
“A lot of these prisons are very old and a lot of them are falling apart,” said Elle Piloseno, a research analyst for the Center of Smart Justice at Florida TaxWatch. “We just need to have liveable facilities.”
Although the DOC’s budget has increased minimally over the years, the state facilities need to address these repairs to ensure the inmates and staff and have everything they need, Piloseno said. The public safety of the communities in which the prisons are located can also be impacted by a facility’s condition.
The end goal is to make sure inmates are properly cared for during their time inside the system.
And although repairs and reforms are needed, what isn’t needed is new prisons, Piloseno said, adding that reforms should focus on prevention and rehabilitation, not retribution.
“We should reserve our prison beds and jail beds, which are extremely expensive, for people we’re afraid of and not mad at,” said Piloseno.