A New Re-entry Program for Florida?

In a bill recently passed by both chambers of the state legislature, Florida may have hit upon an effective way to combat high recidivism rates. The bill, now awaiting the governor’s signature, creates a new system of re-entry which will divert non-violent drug offenders who have served at least half of their sentence into community-based substance abuse treatment and education programs.

The bill would make 337 inmates eligible this year alone and at a cost of $19,469 per prisoner per year in Florida, it could lead the state to save up to $6,561,053. These savings could be just the beginning, however, because properly-structured treatment programs have proved to reduce recidivism rates dramatically. A Maryland study, for example, found that low-risk substance abuse offenders that were directed into an evidence-based probation and treatment program were 22 percent less likely to re-offend than comparable offenders who were sent to prison.

Florida taxpayers should be delighted to see that their legislators and governor are looking so carefully at the state’s recidivism problem.

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Gov. Chris Christie’s Plan to Expand Drug Courts

New Jersey Governor Chris Christie, a former federal prosecutor, has unveiled a new plan to expand the state’s Drug Court program and to allow judges to order non-violent addicts to participate in mandatory drug treatment.

The new plan should save the state millions of dollars. New Jersey currently spends $49,000 per inmate per year, one of the highest costs in the country, but rehab for drug offenders—which is much less costly than incarceration—could cut costs dramatically. The new drug courts are also projected to deliver better outcomes. According to the Governor’s Office, the rate at which drug court graduates are re-arrested for a new indictable offense is 16 percent—compared to a 54 percent recidivism rate among offenders released from prison.

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The Commonwealth Foundation’s Plan to Improve Corrections in Pennsylvania

Since 1980, the incarceration rate in Pennsylvania has increased by 500%, and the budget for the state’s Department of Corrections has increased by 1,700%. Even after all of this spending on corrections (which includes costs for the construction of eighteen new prisons), Pennsylvania’s facilities remain 13% over capacity. Three new prisons are now scheduled for construction at a cost of over $695 million. The Commonwealth Foundation has put together a three-point plan to combat this growth: keep low-risk cases out of prison, reduce recidivism, and fund results rather than just punishment. Commonwealth’s plan can be read in full here.

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Doggy Justice or Nanny State?

The Wall Street Journal is reporting on a new court in San Antonio, TX that has been established to deal with domestic animal problems. The court meets every week to deal exclusively with the revamped chapter five of the city’s Code of Ordinances, which addresses dog bites, stray pets, failure to register and vaccinate animals, and the specific weight, length, and material of leashes and collars. Code violations can lead to fines of up to $2,000 per day.

Some citizens argue that the city is frequently “prosecuting picayune offenses.” Ramal Shaw, for example, is a resident of San Antonio who faces charges that his Chihuahua bit his 6-year-old son. Shaw claims that the bite was actually a scratch, and his son complained about it to a school nurse in an attempt to “play hooky” from school. Shaw now faces a $269 fine and must appear in the new court to face a prosecutor. If Shaw does not pay the fine, the court has the power to seize the dog. For some individuals, this is the equivalent of losing a family member because of an inability to pay a fine.

Lisa Wayne, the president of the National Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers, argues in the article that “[w]e have moved towards an over-criminalization model, where everything is punishable by jails or fines.” In her view, the city should focus on “educating people about their animals rather than punishing them.”

San Antonio’s new system has thus far accumulated a total of $250,000 in fines from the prosecution of similar cases.

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GPPF Releases New Paper by Right on Crime Senior Advisers

Today, the Georgia Public Policy Foundation released a new report, “Peach State Criminal Justice: Controlling Costs, Protecting the Public,” by Right on Crime Senior Advisers, Marc Levin and Vikrant P. Reddy. The issue analysis reviews the recommendations made by the Special Council on Criminal Justice Reform for Georgians and discusses how commonsense adjustments to the criminal justice system have assisted other states in ensuring public safety, holding offenders accountable and controlling corrections costs.

“In Georgia and across the nation, conservatives are uniting behind the idea that we can increase public safety and provide restitution for victims while reducing the burden on taxpayers,” said Kelly McCutchen, president and CEO of the Foundation and a Right on Crime signatory. “It’s time to hold the criminal justice system accountable and the recommendations discussed in this paper truly think outside the cell and provide an excellent step toward reform.”

McCutchen has signed Right on Crime’s Statement of Principles.  He joins national signatories including former Florida Governor Jeb Bush and Reagan Attorney General Ed Meese, as well as leaders in Georgia including the founder of the Faith and Freedom Coalition Ralph Reed, former U.S. Deputy Attorney General Larry Thompson, former Acting U.S. Associate Attorney General Joe Whitley, and president of the Georgia Family Council Randy Hicks.

“Georgians simply can’t build their way out of the state’s prison problems,” said Senior Policy Adviser to Right on Crime and Director of the Center for Effective Justice at the Texas Public Policy Foundation Marc Levin, the paper’s co-author.  “Rather than asking taxpayers to construct another costly prison facility, policymakers should recognize that community corrections programs that are based on evidence, customized to the risk level of each offender, and subjected to rigorous performance measures offer a better option for holding nonviolent offenders accountable and turning them into productive taxpayers.”

To view the full report, click here.

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