The deaths of two inmates at Baker Correctional Institution in Sanderson, Florida last week have sparked call for reform of the state’s correctional system.
Florida has the third-largest prison system in the nation, with more than 100,000 inmates and a $2.1 billion budget.
During an appearance on WJCT's “First Coast Connect,” Criminal Justice Analyst Dale Carson and Wendy Tatter, a representative for the St. Augustine nonprofit Initiative for Compassion, talked about prison reform in Florida.
Carson says problems with the state’s correctional system are getting worse.
“You need more correction officers,” Carson said. “You need fewer inmates, but none of that seems to be happening. The system seems to be expanding exponentially.”
Tatter says she agrees the system is broken. Her son was sentenced to 10 years in prison about six years ago.
“The prisons are in disrepair [with] ceilings falling in, water leaking everywhere,” Tatter said.
She says prisoners don’t always have the amenities to maintain cleanliness and prevent health issues from occurring.
Carson says the solution is in fewer arrests, not putting more people in jail.
“Violent offenders are dangerous to all of us and certainly those people need to be kept out of the general population, but so many of the offenders are nonviolent and it's those people that really clog up the system,” Carson said.
He says we need to focus more energy and effort on sorting out the problems that bring about non-violent criminal conduct.
Carson also says arrests for minor offenses often snowball into more offenses.
“For example, there’s a traffic stop. You lose your license, you don’t have money to pay for your license to be reinstated,” Carson said. “You end up in custody twice, three times. It’s a felony. Then all of the sudden you’re in the prison system, and we’ve got to do something about that.”
Tatter says she met with the five heads of the Florida Department of Corrections about a year and a half ago.
She says when she brought up her concerns about the system and how prisoners were treated, she was told she was preaching to the choir.
“They said if they thought that 25 years would help everyone they’d keep everyone in for 25 years, but it is a losing battle,” Tatter said. “It doesn’t work.”
Tatter says laws concerning mandatory minimum sentences need to be changed.
She also says she does believe prisoners need to be punished and often serve time for their crimes, but mandatory minimums are overcrowding the prison system.
Carson says he doesn’t excuse criminal conduct, and he wants to live in a world free from worry of criminal behavior.
“But on the other hand, we need to learn to help one another so these people don’t live in such disparity of wealth,” Carson said.
Both Carson and Tatter say prisons should be more rehabilitative.