Given the incredible problems that Florida (among other states) is having as described in Professor Berman’s blog, Wisconsin’s program for early release of non-violent (mainly drug) offenders is looking smarter by the day. Berman notes a local Florida story:
If only Florida’s economy could grow like its prisons. The state has more than 100,000 prisoners for the first time in its history. It’s expected to add 14,000 in the next five years, according to the Department of Corrections. Every 1,500 new inmates need a new prison. It costs $100 million to build one and $20 million a year to run. How can a state in a perpetual budget crisis pay for all that?
“It’s currently unsustainable given our fiscal situation,” said Florida Tax Watch general counsel Robert Weissert. Florida is staring at a Texas-sized problem. Fortunately, Texas might also have the solution.
Two years ago that state faced its own prison crisis: house 17,000 new inmates by 2012 at a cost of half a billion dollars. But Texas never built any new prisons. Instead, for half that amount, it revamped its criminal justice system, reduced its prison population and became a national model for reform.
“We hit the perfect storm at the right time,” Texas legislator Jerry Madden said at the Collins Center for Public Policy’s Justice Summit this week in Tampa. “We were able to say we can do this for less and, oh, by the way, our results will be better.”
Wisconsin’s program as described here and here allows offenders to earn 1 day of credit for every 3 served. We currently have 22,000 prisoners and approximately 3-4000 will be released early under the program.