Prison reform proposals prompt political fears
Gov. Rick Scott’s transition team outlined a plan to cut prison spending while also, over the long run, reducing crime, but state lawmakers this week expressed concern over whether prison reform would lead to politicians being labeled soft on crime.
Scott’s plan centers around allowing first-time offenders to become productive members of society, rather than confining them to long sentences in prisons that can serve as “crime colleges” and turn them into hardened criminals.
“There are some we just can’t help,” Dominic Calabro of Florida Tax Watch told the Senate Criminal Justice Committee, saying the key is to allow judges broad discretion to reduce prison terms and supplement them with job training, mental health counseling, treatment for drug addictions and other programs that are cheaper than prison but more likely to keep minor criminals from becoming more serious or repeat offenders.
This week, Florida lawmakers heard from a legislator who tried some of those things in Texas, and according to the St. Petersburg Times, they worried about how these reforms would play politically:
Sen. Greg Evers, R-Baker, and Sen. Mike Bennett, R-Bradenton, asked if such measures prompt criticism of being soft on crime.
Sen. Paula Dockery, R-Lakeland, said Florida lawmakers considered some of Madden’s suggestions in the past, but “it’s politically difficult to do.” Madden said that shouldn’t be the case.
Image matters, and if Scott wants to save money over the short term and reduce crime over the long term as his transition team recommended, his success may hinge on salesmanship. There is a push under way to re-brand criminal justice reform to make it credible among conservatives.