Five questions for Allison DeFoor

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Allison DeFoor is in the news this week, leading the launch of the Project on Accountable Justice at Florida State University. The bipartisan think tank was created to develop information for making criminal justice decisions.

“The data will be its own advocacy,” DeFoor said. “There are plenty of advocates in this mix. We don’t need more advocates. We need more data.”

He describes PAJ as “simple…less crime for less money.” Its approach maintains that corrections funding must come with accountability and performance metrics to reduce crime, reduce recidivism and waste fewer taxpayer dollars.

Because DeFoor has seen so many sides of the criminal justice system, he’s proved uniquely able to bring “smart justice” stakeholders together. He’s been a public defender, a circuit judge, the Monroe County sheriff, vice chairman of the Republican Party of Florida, Bob Martinez’ pick for lieutenant governor in 1990 and Gov. Jeb Bush’s Everglades czar. Today he’s an Episcopal priest, a chaplain at Wakulla Correctional Institution, chairman of the board of the LeRoy Collins Institute and a trustee of Tallahassee Community College.

Besides FSU, PAJ’s partners include Baylor University, St. Petersburg College and TCC. Its board includes FSU president emeritus Sandy D’Alemberte; former Florida attorney general Richard Doran; former Florida A&M University president Fred Gainous, now the interim dean of Sociology and Criminal Justice; Byron Johnson, director of Baylor’s Institute for Studies of Religion; St. Petersburg College president Bill Law and Jeff Kronschnabl of SPC’s Public Policy and Administration program; TCC president Jim Murdaugh; and David Rasmussen, dean of the FSU College of Social Sciences and Public Policy.

DeFoor said PAJ is politically neutral. “We’re going to be Switzerland.” He expects it to add partners.

The News Service of Florida has five questions for Allison DeFoor:Q: What’s the status of “smart justice” in Florida now?

DEFOOR: I’m not sure it’s even smart justice at this point. It’s more about accountability. What you’re going to see now is that the same demands for accountability that have gone through education will go through criminal justice. And not all of that’s been pretty, but it’s been pretty broad and pretty deep.

People forget that the FCAT came to Florida under Lawton Chiles. It didn’t come under Jeb Bush. You can talk about what’s going to be tested, but the bottom line is: somebody’s going to be testing…the system as a whole, not just [individual] students.

That’s what you’re going to start seeing in criminal justice. I think it’s telling that the two heads of the judiciary committee in both the House and the Senate that were just named – neither of them is a lawyer. I’ve never seen that – ever. So I think what you’re going to see now is a businessperson’s gimlet eyes of accountability will be now turned on the justice system in ways we’ve never seen before.

That’s a big deal. I’ve never seen a non-lawyer head the judiciary committee, much less in both houses at the same time.

Q: Do you know of proposed legislation we’ll be seeing as a result?

DEFOOR: I don’t, but as a broad brush, that tells me accountability’s coming. And it’s going to be output accountabilities. We’ve always had input accountabilities – we had that in education. But now it’s going to be, “What did you do with the money we gave you?”

And that’s the context that Newt Gingrich talks about, where he said that if a third of the bridges that we built with the Department of Transportation fell down, we’d be outraged, and yet we tolerate a third of the prisoners getting out of state prison coming back within three years. And that’s intolerable. Fiscally intolerable. Forget the moralities of it. We don’t have the kind of money that’ll allow us to do that anymore.

Q: Why is it that the states that have managed to make a success of smart justice tend to be law-and-order, conservative states?

DEFOOR: They’ve got more room. It’s a Nixon-goes-to-China kind of thing. The conservatives have led the charge in Texas, and they’re leading the charge here, to be honest with you.
Everything I’ve seen, the Democrats have been very supportive of this, but politically they don’t have any of the governor’s or Cabinet’s impact.

Q: You’ve drawn many parallels between education and criminal justice. Why is that?

DEFOOR: We know what works, because the data are pretty clear, and among the five things that work that we can actually do something about, education’s pretty high up. So is substance abuse. So is belief in something other than yourself. I recommend God, but it can be Allah or the dignity of man…but something outside of you is really important. Having a family and a structure around you is really important. Having a job is really important. So we know what works, and education is demonstrably effective in reducing recidivism.

At the end of the day, recidivism is just a fancy word for somebody’s grandmother’s house got broken into. The data are pretty clear: it takes about nine offenses before you actually get caught. So recidivism’s not just an intellectual concept. It’s the future of crime.

Q: How do you get away with showing up at the Capitol in Hawaiian shirts?

DEFOOR: I started dressing casually at the Capitol primarily to irritate my old friend Gov. Bush. And I found out once I left government service that if I showed up too often in a suit and tie, people would assume I was up to more than I was actually up to. I’m now burdened with a certain image that I don’t know if I’ll get away from too easily.

Peter Schorsch is the President of Extensive Enterprises and is the publisher of some of Florida’s most influential new media websites, including SaintPetersBlog.com, FloridaPolitics.com, ContextFlorida.com, and Sunburn, the morning read of what’s hot in Florida politics. SaintPetersBlog has for three years running been ranked by the Washington Post as the best state-based blog in Florida. In addition to his publishing efforts, Peter is a political consultant to several of the state’s largest governmental affairs and public relations firms. Peter lives in St. Petersburg with his wife, Michelle, and their daughter, Ella.