‘Smart Justice’ effort could be revived in Legislature

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A coalition of diverse organizations interested in making improvements to Florida’s criminal and juvenile justice systems announced the formation of the Florida Smart Justice Alliance, dedicated to developing consensus on alternatives that can enhance public safety, reduce costs and improve outcomes for low-level offenders who become involved with the Florida corrections system.

“The Alliance is reaching out to interested parties from all viewpoints in order to discuss the issues and find common ground on the best ideas. Our goal is to identify productive alternatives to incarceration on the front end and better transitioning efforts for those prisoners who are being released back into their communities,” said Mark Flynn, President and Chief Executive Officer of the Florida Smart Justice Alliance.

 The Alliance’s immediate efforts are aimed toward December, when it will hold the Justice Summit 2012 in Orlando from December 12-14. The Summit will bring together policy makers and thought leaders across the criminal justice spectrum to develop far-reaching initiatives offering common-sense ideas to improve outcomes, reduce costs and enhance public safety for the people of Florida. Florida Smart Justice Alliance member organizations range from business groups like Associated Industries of Florida and the Florida Chamber to prisoner re-entry service providers such as Bridges of America.

Lori Costantino-Brown, President of Bridges of America, noted that Florida taxpayers are expected to spend $2.1 billion to incarcerate almost 100,000 inmates in the current fiscal year, yet the buildup that has seen the state’s prison population more than double since 1990 has not broken the cycle of crime. Almost two-thirds of inmates are re-arrested within three years of their release, and half of those end up back in prison, needlessly repeating the costly cycle, she noted. Non-violent offenders account for as much as seven out of 10 prison admissions.

“So much of our prison population is made up of low-level offenders who should be assessed for their potential to succeed in programs that are proven to reduce the number who reoffend,” said Lori Costantino-Brown, President and CEO of Bridges of America. “One of the biggest factors driving this costly growth in prisoners is drug use, yet our system does not do enough to break drug habits.”

Leading organizations participating in the Florida Smart Justice Alliance include the American Probation and Parole Association, Associated Industries of Florida, Bridges of America, the Collins Center for Public Policy, Florida Alcohol and Drug Abuse Association, Florida Association of Community Corrections, Florida Chamber of Commerce, Florida Council for Community Mental Health, Florida Juvenile Justice Association, Florida Partners in Crisis, Florida TaxWatch, the James Madison Institute and Right on Crime.

A report last year by the Smart Justice Council, part of Associated Industries of Florida, determined that 33 percent of non-violent drug offenders repeat within three years. However, 82 percent of those who complete community drug treatment successfully avoid re-offending within three years. This reduced recidivism saves taxpayers $40 million per year compared to the costs of incarceration. (Source: Cost-Effectiveness and Community Benefit Report, AIF Smart Justice Council, September 2011)

In addition, a poll of the most conservative segment of the Florida electorate released in January shows that public support in Florida is solidly behind the principles of smart justice to enhance public safety and reduce the prohibitive cost of current criminal justice policies.

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.