By Ralph De La Cruz
Florida Center for Investigative Reporting
It’s hard to build up much compassion for prisoners and jail inmates. Equally tough to speak up on behalf of former robbers, rapists and murderers.
But the fact remains that, as a society, we believe in punishment, rehabilitation and release. At some point, all but the most dangerous will try to live alongside us.
And if the goal is to try to make sure these folks integrate back into society and don’t end up doing something that sends them back to jail, then you might wonder about a couple of recent changes in state law.
Back in March, Gov. Rick Scott and the cabinet, led by Atty. Gen. Pam Bondi, rescinded a program started by former Gov. Charlie Crist that automatically restored felons’ voting rights after they served their time. Now, felons will now have to wait five years before they can apply to have their rights restored.
The decision by Scott, Bondi and the cabinet may have sounded like a good, get-tough idea. But a report released last month by the Florida Parole Commission suggests it may not be such effective public policy.
The Parole Commission report, which examined years during which inmates had their voting rights restored automatically, found that those inmates had a recidivism rate of 11 percent. A 2010 report by the Department of Corrections, on the other hand, found that the recidivism rate (or the percentage re-incarcerated) was 33 percent in the years before Crist instituted the changes.
Florida is one of threee states in the country that do not automatically restore felons’ rights.
And not only will it more difficult for Florida’s ex-felons to vote, but they will also have a harder time getting their high school equivalency certificate, the GED.
As of July 1, a new state law requires all adult general education students to pay $30 (for in-state tuition) or $120 (out-of-state). That may not seem like much to someone working and living in an apartment. But for an inmate, $30 could be a deal-breaker.
And as the Gainesville Sun reports, it could be an expensive deal-buster for taxpayers. A 2001 study by the Department of Corrections found that the recidivism rate for those who passed the GED to be six percent below the state average. The study estimated that, in 2001, that translated into a savings of $2 million.