Task Force Urges Policy Shift to Reduce Ex-offender Recidivism


NEWS

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE:                CONTACT:  Ryan Banfill
December 19, 2006                        (850) 222-1996

Task Force Urges Policy Shift to Reduce Ex-offender Recidivism
Commission recommends vocational training, job assistance to help ex-cons successfully re-enter society.  

Tallahassee, Fla. – The final report released today by the Governor’s Ex-Offender Task Force called for sweeping changes in Florida Department of Corrections policy to help reduce the costs repeat offenders impose on victims and communities across Florida.

The report noted that nearly 90 percent of inmates in Florida prison will one day be released, but funding for vital programs to help reduce recidivism rates – by keeping ex-offenders off drugs and making them employable when they re-enter society – has declined over the past five years, even as FDC’s inmate population has increased 18 percent.  

 “We cannot continue to release people from prison who are unprepared to return home and succeed in living a crime-free life,” said Vicki Lopez Lukis, Chairman of the Governor’s Ex-Offender Task Force.  “And we cannot continue to fail our communities by leaving them unprepared to help ex-offenders succeed.”

The report found that of the 30,000 people released from Florida state prisons each year, more than a quarter of these ex-offenders will return to prison within three years after committing a new crime.

“This rate of recidivism is unacceptably high and unacceptably expensive,” said Tim Ryan, Director of the Miami-Dade County Corrections and Rehabilitation Department. “For each new crime, there is a new victim, and new costs to Florida communities. This trend must be reversed, and I hope policymakers will take a close look at the recommendations in this report to help accomplish that goal.”

Among the Task Force’s highest-priority recommendations are that:

• FDC should revise its mission statement to explicitly address successful reentry.

• FDC should institute performance measures for its facilities, wardens and staff to assess its work in assisting successful ex-offender reentry.

• FDC should improve and expand job-training programs for prisoners.

• FDC should begin pre-release planning with inmates starting on their first day of incarceration, and it should develop individualized reentry plans for each inmate.

• The state should create a transition authority to coordinate a seamless planning process and continuum of services from FDC custody to the community, to facilitate the successful reentry of people leaving FDC custody.

• The Legislature should prohibit the requirement that one have their civil rights restored as a condition for employment or licensing. Instead, it should create a single background check law with lists of disqualifying offenses relevant to the occupation, license or place of employment.

“The point of getting drug-addicted offenders clean, mentally ill prisoners on medication and under-educated felons into employment training is not simply to make life easier for prisoners,” said Task Force Vice-Chairman Robert Blount.  “This is a public-safety issue, and all of us will be better off if we can keep more ex-offenders on the straight and narrow path to legal, gainful employment.”

Implementing these recommendations would go far in reducing the number of recidivist crimes that victimize thousands of Floridians each year, the task force projected.

Hobe Sound resident and victims’ rights advocate Katherine Burns had a son-in-law with a troubled past. He had brushed with the law and served time in prison, where he was prescribed anti-psychotic medication to manage Bipolar Disorder. Unfortunately, when he was released from prison, he was left without guidance or resources to continue his psychiatric treatment. He relapsed into manic-depressive psychosis and murdered Burns’ sister.

“My sister was a victim not only of this man, but of a system that failed to prepare him to reenter society safely,” Burns said. “We can only guess how many Floridians would be spared from such tragedies if the state did a better job rehabilitating ex-offenders.”

The Task Force’s final recommendation is that the Governor should re-commission it for further study of critical populations such as sex offenders, female, juvenile and mentally ill inmates to reach additional reform recommendations.

The Governor’s Ex-Offender Task Force was created by Gov. Bush in February 2005, by Executive Order 05-28. In the order, Bush wrote, “Florida is committed to the ideal of America being the land of second chance, as expressed by the President of the United States who declared: “When the gates of the prison open, the path ahead should lead to a better life.”