As the Legislature’s “big chairs” meet this weekend to try to take the 2016-17 state budget in for a landing, there are few issues more pressing and in the public eye than fixing Florida’s ailing Department of Corrections and prison system in general.
The department has gained a reputation for cutting corners in a way that has put inmates – and our correctional system’s reputation – at risk. One key area of need is DOC health care, a matter of heightened importance today due to our growing awareness of the plight of the many mentally ill Floridians who occupy the state’s prisons.
Providing quality health care to inmates is also, of course, a necessity owing to an incarcerated individual’s eighth amendment rights. We need to do it and we need to do it right, and recent years have not case Florida’s efforts in the best light.
Yet, lawmakers are responding and making gestures towards improving the state of affairs, at least they have been. Last year, the Legislature stabilized the department after years of underfunding with strategic investments to improve the agency’s operations.
But this year, lawmakers are looking to again short prisoners’ health care and its providers, a critical area of the budget. Budget writers have so far seen fit to only fund it to the tune of $15 million.
Appropriating $15M, $19M short of the Department’s need, is asking a financially fragile Department to make up a $19M difference between the contract amount using budget amendment. This would unravel the progress made last session.
For years, the Legislature and DOC have been grappling with the issue of inmate health care… let’s put politics aside, properly fund this contract and put this issue to rest.