Inmate population growing in Florida, despite drop in crime rate

Despite a drop in Florida’s crime rate during the past four years, a study says the prison population is on the rise in the Sunshine State.

The report, Criminal Justice Estimating Conference, released in July, was authored by the Office of Economic & Demographic Research.

The research office said the reported crimes index declined by 5.7 percent in 2012, with felonies declining 2.6 percent. Arrests, however, increased by 0.8 percent last year.

Amy Baker, a member of the team that developed the study and coordinator of the Office of Economic Demographics & Research, told Florida Watchdog they don’t know exactly why the prisoner population increased. But, she said, it could be due to “how counties are prosecuting or judging people who end up in prison.”

Among those is the “zero tolerance” program, a policy intended to protect students in classrooms by severely punishing those who bring a firearm or other weapon to the schools, and those who make threats or false reports.

Since the implementation of the zero-tolerance program, the average daily populations in county jails across Florida has jumped 1.7 percent from June 2011 to June 2012.

The state’s demographic research arm isn’t the only group seeing a growing prison-population trend.

The Criminal Justice Estimating Conference projected the number of incarcerations will increase next year and the following. They estimated a 2.7 percent increase in total admissions in fiscal year 2013-14 and a 1.4 percent increase the following year.

Female-InmatesThose numbers have state corrections officials wanting more money.

The Florida Department of Corrections asked the state Legislature to include nearly $57 million in the department 2014-15 budget to accommodate the influx of inmates.

In a public hearing in Tallahassee on Oct. 30, DOC budget director Mark Tallent said officials will need $32.4 million and 328 positions to address the projected increase in inmate population.

“The Department fiscal year 13-14 appropriation includes funding for an average daily population of 100,028 based on the February 2013 estimating conference. Based on the revised estimates from the July 2013 conference, the average daily population is projected to be 101,466 for fiscal year 13-14. Therefore, this request includes funding for additional population projected to be received in 13-14 along with projected increase for 14-15 of 102,830.” Tallent told a budget committee.

He added that the department will need another $24.4 million and 534 support positions and other associated cost of opening facilities.

Tallent said the money will be use to re-open nine facilities, including two in Raiford and Polk City that were closed in 2012.

Contact author Marianela Toledo en

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