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State officials say arrests in Florida have been declining over the past 5 years

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With an annual budget of $2.3 billion and over 23,000 positions, the state Department of Corrections is one of the biggest  — and most important — agencies in the state of Florida.  And as a department that relies so much on general revenues for its funding, that reduction in revenues has undoubtedly played some part in the problems that have grown inside the system.

And as the Senate Criminal Justice Committee was hearing about issues of corruption within the Department of Corrections, the House Justice Appropriation Committee on Tuesday learned some facts and figures about the DOC — including the fact that crimes have been dropping for several years now, echoing a national trend that has been ongoing since the late 1990s.

Among the statistics mentioned today was that while the state inmate population has stayed between 99,000-102,000 in recent years, it has been dropping over the past four years.

The number of offenses decreased in 2013 by 4 percent from 2012. The  698,607 index crimes reported in 2013 was lower than reported in any year since 1979. This is the fifth year in a row in which index offenses have declined (‘index  crimes that include murder and non-negligent homicide, rape, robbery, aggravated assault, burglary, larceny-theft, arson, and auto theft).

The crime rate declined 4.7 percent in 2013. That’s not as substantial as in 2012, when it fell by 6.5 percent.

Arrests declined by 5.8 percent in 2013. The largest percentage decrease in index offense arrests was in burglary, down 13.5 percent.

Arrests for the first six months of 2014 were down 4.3 percent from 2013.

After essentially no change in 2011, the number of felony filings has declined over the last three years. The number of filings declined by 2.2 percent in 2012, by 8.3 percent in 2013, and by 5.0 percent in 2014.

The average sentence length of a new prisoner in the system is 58.9 months, or 4.9 years.

Department of Corrections Secretary Julie Jones told lawmakers that she’s already “overcapacity in certain facilities,” warning them that another budget reduction would be damaging to the department.

“We’re taking a very proactive approach, working with the (budget) estimators so that the budget projection matches the reality on the ground and the facilities itself,” she said. She also said she needed to do a habitability study on all of the department’s buildings.

Mitch Perry has been a reporter with Extensive Enterprises since November of 2014. Previously, he served as five years as the political editor of the alternative newsweekly Creative Loafing. He also was the assistant news director with WMNF 88.5 FM in Tampa from 2000-2009, and currently hosts MidPoint, a weekly talk show, on WMNF on Thursday afternoons. He began his reporting career at KPFA radio in Berkeley. He's a San Francisco native who has now lived in Tampa for 15 years and can be reached at mitch.perry@floridapolitics.com.

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