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Reform for Correctional System in the State of Florida
- Florida has the third-largest inmate population in America (Haughley, 2018).
- Thesis Statement: This paper explores the prevalence and costs of incarceration in Florida and suggests reforms that can help alleviate the problem of high imprisonment rate in this state, such as amending its minimum sentencing laws, increasing the use of diversion programs, drug abuse treatment, and changing some of the policies and practices in its juvenile justice system.
- The State of Incarceration in Florida
- Florida’s incarceration rate is severely higher than the national average.
- In Florida, there is a weak link between crime rates and incarceration rates.
- The Cost of Imprisonment in Florida
- Florida spends a massive amount of money to maintain its high inmate population.
- Overcrowding in Florida’s prisons is exposing the inmates to dangerous living conditions.
- Minimum Sentencing Laws
- Florida has a wide range of minimum sentencing laws.
- Florida’s minimum sentencing laws result in inmates serving lengthy prison terms.
- Drug and Substance Abuse
- Florida does not prioritize drug treatment for its inmate population.
- Over the recent past, the state of Florida has been reducing its allocation for drug treatment as it seeks to address its correction budgetary deficits.
- Substance abuse plays a crucial role in increasing incarceration rates in Florida.
- Reform in Laws
- Over the recent past, numerous laws have been suggested or enacted with the goal of reducing the incarceration rates in Florida.
- One of these bills seeks to make parole more available to inmates in Florida.
- Support for Crime Prevention and Reentry Programs
- Florida adopts a reactive approach to crime prevention, whereby people who are accused of having violated the laws are not only arrested but are also subjected to lengthy prison terms.
- The state of Florida stands to gain significantly if it invests heavily in proactive crime prevention strategies.
- Increasing the Use of Diversion Programs
- Florida underutilizes diversion programs in its correction system.
- What Florida Can Learn from Colorado’s Use of Diversion Programs
- Pettus-Davis and Epperson (2015) argue that the use of diversion programs in Colorado helped the state decrease its inmate population and costs of incarceration.
- What Florida Can Learn From Connecticut’s Use of Diversion Programs
- Pettus-Davis and Epperson (2015) argue that increasing the use of diversion programs helped Connecticut reduce its prison population and costs of incarceration.
- What Florida Can Learn From New York’s Use of Diversion Programs
- Adopting drug treatment as an alternative to prison has helped New York reduce its rate of misdemeanor arrests (Green & Schiraldi, 2016).
- Reforms to Florida’s Juvenile Justice System
- Florida’s juvenile justice has policies that encourage children to be tried as adults.
- The high transfer rates of minors to adult courts in Florida can be attributed to the state’s faulty statutes.
- Florida’s direct file legislation places all the power of making crucial decisions on the prosecutors.
- Trying children as adults have many ramifications, one of them being increasing the incarceration rates.
- In order to address its high incarceration rates, Florida needs to increase its usage of diversion programs and revise its minimum sentencing laws.
- Florida needs to scrape off the direct file policies that have increased the number of juveniles tried and sentencing as adults in the state.
- The suggested reforms will not only reduce recidivism in the state but will also tame its high costs of incarceration.
Reform for Correction System in the State of Florida
Florida has the third-largest inmate population in America (Haughley, 2018). The high inmate population in Florida has severe implications on the state’s taxpayers. Also, the huge amount of money Florida spends catering for the diverse needs of its prison population means that other crucial departments do not get adequate budgetary allocations. The current incarceration problem experienced by the state of Florida stems from its faulty policies, laws, and priorities. This paper explores the prevalence and costs of incarceration in Florida and suggests reforms that can help alleviate the problem of high imprisonment rate in this state, such as amending its minimum sentencing laws, increasing the use of diversion programs, drug abuse treatment, and changing some of the policies and practices in its juvenile justice system.
The State of Incarceration in Florida
Florida’s incarceration rate is relatively higher than the national average. A study conducted by the Crime and Justice Institute found that Florida’s rate of incarceration is 21% higher than the national average (Mahoney, 2018). In addition to the high incarceration rates, Florida’s correctional system has been grappling with the problem of overrepresentation of people of color in its inmate population. For instance, African Americas comprise 48% of the total Florida prison population and 54% of individuals who served for at least 10 years (Sakala, 2019). This indicates that people of color are likely to serve longer prison sentences in Florida.
In Florida, there is a weak link between crime rates and incarceration rates. One would expect that the high incarceration rate in Florida is associated with the increase in crime rates. Paradoxically, the state’s prison population increased from 10,000 inmates in 1973 to more than 102, 000 inmates in 2010 (Office of Program Policy Analysis and Government Accountability, 2019). At the same time, one can argue that the surge in the number of prisoners in Florida is attributed to the increase in the state’s human population. On the contrary, there is a huge discrepancy between the surge in prison population and the growth in the number of people living in Florida. For instance, once the population growth is controlled, there were 132 inmates for every 100,000 Floridians in 1973 (Office of Program Policy Analysis and Government Accountability, 2019). On the other hand, the number changed to 460 inmates for every 100,000 Floridians as of June 2018 (Office of Program Policy Analysis and Government Accountability, 2019). As such, the high incarceration rates in Florida cannot be attributed to the increasing human population and crime rates in the state.
The Cost of Imprisonment in Florida
Florida spends a colossal amount of money to maintain its high inmate population. For instance,Florida spends $ 2.4 billion each year to incarcerate 96,000 inmates (Mahoney, 2018). This huge amount of money is spent on paying prison officers and providing meals and healthcare to inmates. The amount of money Florida spends on correctional services has increased by 60% over ten years from $ 1. 5 billion to $ 2.4 billion annually (Haughley, 2018). The high incarceration rates in Florida are exposing inmates and the states to even bigger problems. In 2017, the Florida Department of Corrections was forced to pay $ 95 million in legal debts after it was found guilty of neglecting the welfare of inmates such as those with disabilities and mental illness (Mahoney, 2018). It is harder for the state to offer the best possible care to every inmate with its high prison population.
At the moment, overcrowding in Florida’s prisons is exposing the inmates to dangerous conditions. The conditions in various correctional facilities in Florida mean that the state is not able to attract an adequate number of people interested in working as prison officers. Even after putting in measures aimed at making correction jobs more appealing such as increasing pay for officers, Florida has only managed to hire a correctional staff only capable of properly managing 86, 000 inmates (Mahoney, 2018).The inadequate workforce makes it harder for correction facilities in Florida to achieve their set goals. Additionally, the state of Florida spends huge amounts of money in the provision of healthcare to its massive inmate population. The provision of health services to inmates costs Florida $ 460 million, or 18.9% of its correction budget each year (Weiss, 2019). Despite the high expenditure on health, inmates in Florida’s correctional facilities have higher rates of specific diseases. As compared to the general population, there is a higher prevalence of HIV, Hepatitis, and long-tern drug use among inmates (Weiss, 2019). These conditions increase the costs of operations for correctional facilities in Florida.
Minimum Sentencing laws
Florida has a wide range of minimum sentencing laws. The state of Florida has more than 100 mandatory minimum sentencing rules imposed on judges (Weiss, 2019). These rules increase the state’s incarceration rates since they result in inmates serving longer prison terms. According to Sakala (2019), Florida’s tougher on crimes policies requires that individuals found guilty of having committed felonious offenses after 1995 to serve not less than 85% of their prison terms regardless of their circumstantial or individual considerations (Sakala, 2019). As such, judges in Florida rarely exercise their discretion when sentencing inmates because their hands are tied by the minimum sentencing rules. Current Florida’s tougher on crime laws were enacted twenty years ago (Mahoney, 2018). While enacting these laws, the state sought to nip in the bud its growing crime rates. Some of these laws required that frequent offenders serve specific prison terms. However, the state was ill-prepared to handle the resulting high incarceration rates brought by its minimum sentencing laws. Haughley (2018) argues that the tough on crime laws enacted in the 1990s have resulted in a 29% increase in the state’s prison population over the past two decades. The high prison population has disrupted the provision of rehabilitation services in Florida’s correction facilities. As a result of inadequate mental health treatment, re-entry programs and prisoner training programs, Florida’s correctional facilities return 85% of their inmate population back to the community ill-prepared to stay out of life of crime (Mahoney, 2018). Thus, a substantial number of inmates released from various correctional facilities in Florida end up being rearrested.
Florida’s minimum sentencing laws result in inmates serving lengthy prison terms. The study by the Crime and Justice Institute revealed that Florida’s minimum sentencing laws result in inmates serving prison terms that are 22% longer as compared to what was the case before the enactment of these policies (Mahoney, 2018). The longer prison sentence translates to the high prison population in Florida. According to Marc Levin who is the founder of the organization known as Right on crime “Florida’s minimum mandatory sentencing laws consider someone as a drug trafficker because they possess a certain amount of the drug, even if they are using it to feed their own addiction” (Mahoney, 2018, Para.7 ). Because of this strict law, a large population of non-prolific drug users ends up being incarcerated. For example, a 65-year old cancer victim is serving 15 years in jail for forging a hydrocodone prescription (Mahoney, 2018). Most importantly, the person in question does not have any prior criminal conviction. Research indicates that 63% of people incarcerated for drug-related offenses in Florida do not have prior prison record (Mahoney, 2018). This is because Florida’s minimum sentencing rules do not put into consideration a person’s mitigating factors during the sentencing of offenders.
Drug and Substance Abuse Treatment
Florida does not prioritize drug treatment for its inmate population.According to a 2010 report by the Florida Department of Corrections, 65% of its prison population was in need of alcohol or drug treatment as of June 30, 2010 (Scaggs, Bales, Clark, Ensley, Coltharp, & Blomberg, 2016). However, Florida has not made adequate investments in drug and substance abuse treatment. Data from various institutions such as the Reason Foundation and the James Madison Institute demonstrates that the majority of inmates serving a prison term of two to three years in Florida are addicts who receive no or little treatment (Mahoney, 2018). However, it is clear that Florida views drug treatment for its prison population as a liability.
Over the recent past, the state of Florida has been reducing its allocation for drug treatment in a quest to address its correction budgetary deficits. For instance, Kinsey (2018) says that out of the $ 28 million proposed budgetary cuts to Florida’s correction department, $ 7. 6 million touches on the inmates’ substance abuse programs while $ 9.1 million affects treatment programs offered to inmates released on parole or probation. High recidivism rates are reported among substance abuse ex-convicts. For instance, Scaggs et al. (2016) say that 71. % of people who were “Rearrested for a new offense within 3 years were identified as drug offenders” (p. 3). This statistic reveals that substance abuse is a critical risk factor as far as reoffending is concerned.
At the same time, substance abuse plays a crucial role in increasing incarceration rates in Florida. According to Scaggs et al. (2016), prison-based treatment programs have been identified as effective in preventing drug relapse and reoffending. If Florida is to address its high incarceration rates, it must invest heavily in its drug treatment programs.
Reform in Laws
Over the recent past, numerous laws have been suggested or enacted with the goal of reducing the incarceration rates in Florida. One of these laws is SB 1392, which empowers law enforcement officers to issue civil citations as opposed to arrests for juveniles and adults suspected of commmiting certain misdemeanors (Mahoney, 2018). One of the options available for decreasing incarceration rates is informal processing. In this method, police officers are empowered to send to rehabilitation programs persons who have admitted to committing minor offenses (Mears, Kuch, Lindsey, Siennick, Pesta, Greenwald, Blomberg, 2016). This method ensures that low-risk offenders avoid the stigma associated with formal charging. At the same time, this method decreases the costs of incarceration as well as recidivism. At the same time, SB 1392 includes a section that aims at compelling county and municipal law enforcement agencies and courts to collect and avail crime data collected in their jurisdictions (Haughley, 2018). Such an initiative aims at making it easy to track down the movement of inmates throughout the state’s correctional system. Recently, Republican Senator Jeff Brandes introduced Senate Bill 642, also known as Florida First Step Act, and which sought to empower judges to deviate from the mandatory minimum sentencing laws when dealing with persons facing drug trafficking charges (Weiss, 2019). However, most of the provisions recommended by Brandes were rejected by the state’s legislature. One of the suggestions that gained the approval of the state’s legislature involves increasing the amount of money that must be involved for a person to be charged with felony theft from $ 300 to $ 750 (Perry, 2019). This move seeks to reduce the number of people incarcerated for petty theft in Florida. In the long run, the initiative is aimed to make it easier for a person with a criminal record to acquire a professional license and reduce the harsh burden parole and probation terms have on petty offenders.
One of Florida’s bills seeks to make parole more available to inmates in Florida. Jeff Brandes’ bill recommended that the inmates be eligible for early release after serving 65% as opposed to 80% of their prison terms, which is the case currently (Perry, 2019). Adjustments aimed at reducing time served requirements can have a tremendous effect on reducing the high prison population in Florida. For instance, Sakala (2019) argues that the prison population would experience an instant reduction of 5% if the policies are changed to ensure that inmates are eligible for early release after serving 80% and not 85% of their prison terms, which is currently the case Florida. If the suggestion to decrease the term served requirement is dropped to 65%, the state’s inmate population would decrease by 18% (Sakala, 2019). There has always been a concern that early release programs are likely to increase recidivism rates. However, Sakala (2019) argues that one out of every three inmates coming from Florida’s correctional facilities would not have additional experience with the judicial systems if released immediately even without receiving reentry to the society support or services (Sakala, 2019). As such, ensuring that inmates serve most of their prison terms does not yield the expected results in terms of reducing recidivism.
Programs aimed at reducing prison terms for specific groups of inmates have yielded positive results, as reported by Green and Schiraldi (2016). For instance, New York City has been implementing the Merit Time program since 1997. Under this program, individuals convicted of non-sex non-violent offenses receive a one-sixth reduction in their prison term, which means that they are eligible for early release under the parole program earlier than expected. However, only prisoners who have met the minimum criteria are eligible to have their minimum prison terms reduced by a sixth, and these conditions include obtaining vocation training or GED certificate and participating in a drug abuse or alcohol program. Prisoners who have advanced their education and participated in a drug treatment program have less likelihood of reoffending upon their release. As such, the Time Merit program aims not only reducing recidivism but also taming the problem of high incarceration costs. Between 1997 and 2006, 37, 914 persons had earned a prison sentence reduction under the Merit Time Program. A study to assess the efficacy of the program in reducing recidivism revealed that the ex-convicts who participated in the Merit Time Program were 31% less likely to return to prison as compared to 39% of those not released under the program. Apart from reducing the rate of recidivism, the Merit Time Program was associated with savings worth $ 384 million by 2016 (Green & Schiraldi, 2016).
Also, the bill introduced by Senator Jeff Brandes sought to facilitate conditional medical release for frail and sick inmates who have low recidivism rates (Perry, 2019). This recommendation was inspired by the fact that older inmates require more attention as compared to the younger ones. According to the Florida Department of Corrections, 24% of the inmate population in Florida is aged 50 years old or more (Weiss, 2019). As compared to their younger counterparts, older inmates have high needs for healthcare services. In the 2017/18 financial year, elderly inmates were responsible for 57% of all episodes of outpatient events, 52% of all inpatient days, and 47.5% of all hospital admissions (Weiss, 2019). If released before the end of their prison terms, older inmates can go to nursing homes where the costs of their healthcare needs are much lower. At the same time, these persons can go to live with their families where they will be taken care of at low costs. Older inmates have a lower propensity to re-offend, as compared to their younger counterparts. As such, Florida can rest assured that its public safety is unlikely to be adversely affected if it chooses to release some of its older inmate population under the conditional medical release program (Perry, 2019).
According to Green and Schiraldi (2016), legal changes have helped New York decrease its incarceration rates. For instance, in 2009, Governor David Paterson signed into law article 216, which included a number of criminal justice reforms. One of these reforms stated that people found guilty of the second felony offense should be eligible for diversion programs. Also, the reform empowered judges to send people convicted of drug offenses into treatment programs when appropriate. At the same time, the reform offered an opportunity for people who have successfully undergone a treatment program to have their cases dismissed. Also, the reform empowered judges to send persons who have committed crimes apart from drug offenses as a result of issues related to their substance dependence to diversion programs. These drug law reforms have had immense implications in reducing the prison population in New York City. For instance, the number of inmates serving prison terms for a drug sentence reduced from 24,000 to 6,700 in 1996 and 2014, respectively, which represents a 72% decline (Green & Schiraldi, 2016).
Support for Crime Prevention and Reentry Programs
As already established, Florida adopts a reactive approach to crime prevention, whereby people who are accused of having violated the laws are not only arrested but are also subjected to lengthy prison terms. Attempts to tame the high cost of incarceration usually result in Florida’s Department of Corrections reducing the budget allocations to crucial services, such as work-release and reentry support programs (Sakala, 2019). However, this paper has demonstrated that this approach does not help in reducing recidivism. The state of Florida stands to gain significantly if it invests heavily in proactive crime prevention strategies. This strategy would aid in addressing the state’s overcrowding crisis. The state will save huge amounts of money in bed space if it adopts a proactive crime prevention strategy. The money it will save can go towards funding supportive reentry programs, which have high potential in terms of decreasing recidivism for ex-convicts.
Amasa-Annang and Scutelnicu (2016) conducted a study to assess the efficacy of reentry programs provided by the Second Chance Act of 2007 in reducing reoffending among male ex-inmates in Mississippi, Alabama, and Georgia. The Second Chance Act of 2007 encompasses a wide range of crime prevention programs such as housing assistance, mental health treatment, family-based support, group and individual mentoring activities, job-skill training, and employment assistance. This study revealed that the Act helped in reducing reoffending in Mississippi and Georgia but not in Alabama. At the same time, the study found out that funding is a crucial factor in determining the extent to which the Second Chance Act of 2007 can help reduce recidivism. In this study, Georgia experienced the largest change in recidivism rates. However, Georgia got six grants from the money availed from the Second Chance Act, while Alabama and Mississippi received two grants each (Amasa-Annang & Scutelnicu, 2016).
Increasing the Use of Diversion Programs
Florida underutilizes diversion programs in its correction system. There are many diversion programs that are used to reduce the inmate population and discourage sending low-risk offenders to prison. These programs include probation, plea bargaining, and pretrial intervention. In its study, the Office of Program Policy Analysis and Government Accountability (2019) found that diversion programs are underutilized in Florida. Florida should divert people who would benefit from staying within the communities as opposed to being incarcerated. At the same time, the increased use of drug courts and mental health courts can help Florida reduce its high incarceration rates. Studies have indicated that the use of mental health courts and drug courts can significantly decrease criminal behavior and drug relapse (Pettus-Davis & Epperson, 2015). For instance, research indicates that accused persons who gone through drug courts have a low likelihood of resorting to the use of illicit drugs as compared to their counterparts in the control group (Pettus-Davis & Epperson, 2015). As compared to ordinary courts, special courts aim at ensuring that accused persons are helped stay out of crimes as opposed to being punished.
What Florida Can Learn from Colorado’s Use of Diversion Programs
Pettus-Davis & Epperson (2015) argue that the use of diversion programs in Colorado has helped the state decrease its inmate population and the costs of incarceration. For instance, “Colorado experienced a 6% reduction in recidivism within two years after changing statutes related to drug offenses and requirements for length of parole supervision for low-and medium-risk level of offenders” (p. 7). After adopting these changes, Colorado saved $ 5.9 million. The state invested the money it saved after implementing these changes into substance abuse and mental health treatment programs, providing incentives to ex-convicts to encourage them to actively participate in rehabilitative programs, and offering relevant training to parole and probation officers in the areas of motivational interviewing techniques (Pettus-Davis & Epperson, 2015).
What Florida Can Learn From Connecticut’s Use of Diversion Programs
Pettus-Davis and Epperson (2015) argue that increasing the use of diversion programs helped Connecticut reduce its prison population and costs of incarceration. After reducing the use of imprisonment for individuals who violated their probation terms by 50%, Connecticut saved about 50$ within 2 years. Instead of probation violators being imprisoned, Connecticut enacted laws that required that these persons be considered for intensive supervision services as a first option to incarceration. The jurisdiction spent the amount of money it saved after reducing the number of probation violators being sent to prisons in community-based pilot projects and mental health treatment programs (Pettus-Davis & Epperson, 2015).
What Florida Can Learn From New York’s Use of Diversion Programs
According to Green and Schiraldi (2016), adopting drug treatment as an alternative to prison has helped New York reduce its rates of misdemeanor arrests. On this note, New York adopted a drug treatment alternative-to prison (DTAP) program that has helped it reduce the misdemeanor drug arrests by about a half. Towards the end of the 20th century, New York was considered as the representation of the urban decay plaguing many American cities. In 1990, there were 2,200 murders in New York but this number decreased to 350 in 2015. At the same time, there were 47, 315 people in New York correction facilities in 1998 but this number has reduced to 22, 580 as of May 2016. It took a number of initiatives for New York to transform its correction system. In the beginning, it was mandatory for persons found guilty of any two felonies within 10 years to get a prison sentence. It did not matter which two felonies a person was convicted for. At the same time, it was considered to be a Class A felony for a person to possess four ounces or be involved in the sale of two ounces of a narcotic drug, and it carried a 15-to-life prison sentence. In 1990, the new Kings County District Attorney Charles J Haynes concluded that repeat felony drug offenders, as well as their families and their communities at large, would benefit more from being subjected to a treatment program as opposed to the mandatory prison term. After a few years, more district attorneys across the state started replicating the drug treatment alternative-to prison (DTAP) program developed by Charles Hynes. Studies by the Center on Addiction and Substance Abuse of the Columbia University evaluated the efficacy of the DTAP program. The evaluation revealed that the individuals who participated in the DTAP program had 67% less chances of returning to prison and 36% less likelihood of being reconvicted after two years of their release than their counterparts in the control group (Green & Schiraldi, 2016).
Reforms to Florida’s Juvenile Justice System
Florida’s juvenile justice policies encourage children to be tried as adults. To begin with, the state ranks the highest when it comes to trying juveniles as adults (Dunkelberger, 2019). Florida tries hundreds of minors as adults each year. On this note, 904 minors were tried and imprisoned in the criminal justice system meant for adults in 2017-2018 in Florida (Dunkelberger, 2019). The high transfer rates of minors to adult courts in Florida are attributed to the state’s faulty statutes. According to Baquedano (2015), “Florida is one of fifteen jurisdictions in the United States that have enacted a direct file statute that grants prosecutors the ability to transfer juveniles from the juvenile justice system to adult courts” (p. 169). In Florida, the rate in which minors are charged as adults is 164.7 for every 100,000 juveniles which is “Almost twice the rate of Oregon, which had the second highest rates” (Baquedano, 2015, p. 174). The Florida’s direct file legislation places all the power of making crucial decisions on the prosecutors. According to Brodsky and Nuzzo (2016), when a prosecutor uses Florida’s direct file law, the judge reads no briefs, signs no order, hears no evidence and basically has no authority in assessing whether the child’s interests are better served if he/she is tried as a juvenile and not as an adult. In other jurisdictions, the judge rules on the prosecutor’s request during a transfer hearing, also called a waiver hearing (Brodsky & Nuzzo, 2016). As such, the judge may rule against the prosecutor’s request to have a minor tried as an adult if the former is given an opportunity to review the evidence presented by the latter.
Dunkelberger (2019) narrates the story of 19-year-old Taylor Lawrence, who has been serving her ten-year prison sentence at the Florida Women’s Reception Center in Marion County (Dunkelberger, 2019). Taylor Lawrence was found guilty of robbery when she was a 15-year-old teenager. Despite her age, Taylor Lawrence serves her prison term in an adult prison. At the same time, Taylor’s mother describes her daughter as a straight-A student as well as a competitive cheerleader. Apart from being an exemplary student, Taylor’s mother says that her daughter has never been arrested before. Taylor’s case depicts how Florida’s direct file policies can be detrimental to the welfare of minors since it may end up ruining the lives of promising juveniles who only made one wrong decision that landed them in court (Dunkelberger, 2019).
At the same time, Baquedano (2015) tells the story of Brian, a 17-year old young man who found a BB gun while walking on the beach with his friends. Through pressure from his friends, Brian used the BB gun to threaten a homeless couple. During the incident, Brian did not pull the trigger, and nobody was hurt. On the evening of the same day, police officers arrested Brian after he was accused of stealing a motorized grocery cart. However, Brian managed to demonstrate that he did not commit the second offense. This notwithstanding, he was found to match the description offered by the homeless couple regarding the minor who had threatened them with a gun. As such, Brian was charged as per the requirements of Florida’s direct file statute for the two crimes he was accused of having committed. This means that Brian was facing a 30-years prison term for the crime of using a firearm to perpetuate armed robbery. At the same time, Brian faced a 5-year maximum prison sentence if he was to be convicted of the crime of grand theft. This means that Brian could end up being imprisoned for a maximum of 35 years if he was convicted of the two charges facing him (Baquedano, 2015).
Trying children as adults has many ramifications, one of them being increasing the incarceration rates. This is because minors tried as adults are more likely to be given lengthy prison terms as compared to their counterparts who are sent to a juvenile justice system. Surprisingly, once the legal and extralegal factors are controlled, “Juveniles waived to criminal court were sentenced to longer sentences than young adults between the ages of eighteen and twenty-four who were sentenced over the same period of time” (Baquedano, 2015, p. 171). At the same time, the adult justice system does not have the capacity to cater to the specific needs of its juvenile population. For instance, Marquis McKenzie who served two years in an adult prison after she was found guilty of committing armed robbery at the age of 15 years compares incarcerating juvenile to adult prisons as akin to “Sending a child from day care to a high school” (Dunkelberger, 2019, Para. 13). Instead of reducing recidivism, sending juveniles to adult courts increases the chances that these persons would commit more crimes when they become adults. According to Brodsky and Nuzzo (2016), adult systems increase the chance that children will fail socially and economically. In most cases, children sent to adult courts accept plea bargains offered to them by prosecutors (Brodsky & Nuzzo, 2016). However, a plea bargain is seen as a guilty verdict. This means that a child who accepts plea bargain terms faces an immense obstacle in his/her quest to stay out of prison. This is because violations of probation terms may result in him/her being sent to prison. For instance, Brodsky and Nuzzo (2016) say that 53% of the 1,044 children sentenced as adults in 2010 in Florida who were initially released under probation were eventually sent to adult prison. This statistic reveals how Florida’s juvenile justice system make minors more susceptible to fail in their quests to stay out of prison.
At the same time, juveniles tried as adults have a higher propensity to commit crimes after being released from prison as compared to their counterparts who are tried as minors. On this note, studies conducted in Florida have revealed that sending juveniles to adult courts does not have a deterrent effect (Baquedano, 2015). Apart from failing to reduce the rates of incarceration, sending juveniles to adult criminal courts increases the costs of incarceration. For instance, Brodsky and Nuzzo (2016) say that Florida’s direct file policy would cost taxpayers in the state about $ 175 million over the coming ten years if it is not reviewed. As such, Florida cannot afford not to review its direct file policy if its correction department is to continue offering the necessary services.
In conclusion, Florida’s high incarceration rate is causing a myriad of challenges to the state. The problem can be attributed to a number of policies, such as the minimum sentencing laws and direct file regulations that increase the length of prison terms and the costs of incarceration. At the same time, this paper has revealed that these policies help increase recidivism. In order to address its high incarceration rates, Florida needs to increase its usage of diversion programs and drug abuse options. At the same time, Florida needs to scrape off the direct file policies that have increased the number of juveniles tried and sentencing as adults in the state. The suggested reforms will not only reduce recidivism in the state but will also tame its high costs of incarceration.
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- Brodsky, D., & Nuzzo, S. (2016). No place for a child: Direct file of juveniles comes at a high cost; time to fix statutes. The James Madison Institute.
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