Walter McNeil is a numbers man. He can rattle off statistics and cost analyses for as long as it takes his audience to get the big picture.
Mr. McNeil isn’t a CPA. He’s the secretary of Florida’s Department of Corrections, and he has an ambitious plan to reduce Florida’s recidivism rate — now at 32.8 percent — to 17 percent in three to five years. The reason? To save Florida taxpayers’ money.
Gov.-elect Rick Scott, who has said that he wants to cut state prison costs by $1 billion, should have a sit-down with Mr. McNeil before he wields that budget axe.
In 2008, Florida’s inmate population topped 100,000 for the first time. In 2008-09, 42.3 percent of those admitted to prison had been there before.
It costs $19,000 a year to house one inmate. The cost is expected to climb to about $22,451 by 2014. It costs $100 million to build a prison, and $20 million a year to run it.
Mr. McNeil’s fiscal logic is simple: Reduce the number of inmates who return to prison and you cut prison costs. You also restore safety as the crime rate will drop.
Another number Mr. McNeil points to: 88 percent of Florida’s inmates will be released back into society eventually. Eighty-eight percent! With no motivation for going straight, many will likely commit another crime.
Mr. McNeil decided it wasn’t enough just to release an ex-offender with $100, a suit and a bus ticket home. Working with Duval County Sheriff John Rutherford, Mr. McNeil’s staff came up with the “portal of entry” concept. The corrections staff wanted to hand off the ex-offender to key people upon release. Enter Sheriff Rutherford, a logical choice since all ex-offenders must register with authorities.
Using federal Second Chance grants, the two departments in December 2008 created a “single point” of entry for inmates returning to the community. When an inmate is set for release, the sheriff’s office is notified. A group of parole officers, social workers, educators and others assess the ex-offender’s needs for housing, employment, education, training. The ex-offender is given information about where to find help. Ex-offenders who participate have case managers as they re-enter the community.
Mr. McNeil’s department has gotten no new revenue for this project as it coordinates existing resources — such as work-release programs. The “portal of entry” concept is now in various stages of implementation at sheriff’s offices in Palm Beach, Baker, Hillsborough and Pinellas counties. Mr. McNeil hopes it will expand to all major urban areas.
Empirically, the results of the “portal of entry” program can’t be judged for about three years. But in Duval it appears to be a hit. The sheriff’s office has even developed a job placement component.
So, we can just keep building more prisons to accommodate a growing inmate population, or seek effective ways to reduce crime by helping ex-offenders go straight. Mr. McNeil’s choice makes good dollars and sense for Florida.
A Miami Herald Editorial published November 21, 2010
Read more: http://www.miamiherald.com/2010/11/21/v-print/1934085/a-smart-way-florida-can-reduce.html#ixzz15wLOgXAF