Earlier this week, the Florida Department of Corrections (DOC) announced that it will cut substance abuse and re-entry programs, along with maintenance repairs, as a response to its alarming $28 million budget deficit. This announcement comes as criminal justice reform is being seen as an increasingly urgent issue for Florida, and as lawmakers are understanding the links between mental health, incarceration and the need for effective rehabilitation of inmates. However, that verbal support did not fully translate into budget priorities for Fiscal Year (FY) 2018-19, and this fiscal crisis is proof of that failure. Cutting down on these services, due to insufficient funding, is inhumane, and will have lasting effects on Florida’s inmate population and the state as a whole.
The DOC’s $28 million budget deficit is a product of years of underfunding. Out of the three programs that will receive cuts, substance abuse was the only service that received a significant increase from the FY 2018-19 budget while transition and rehabilitation programs and maintenance and repairs were decreased. The latter has been a reoccurring trend in the state’s funding allocation for the department for years. Although its overall budget has continued to increase– 2.6 percent over the current fiscal year– and incarceration rates are declining, the DOC persistently struggles to maintain critical health services and education programs. In other words, as more taxpayers’ money is being invested in the state’s prisons, the conditions of inmates’ health and rehabilitation are not improving. Clearly, there is a disconnect, and lawmakers must be more pro-active now than ever at tackling real criminal justice reform.
These new measures will have life-threatening implications for inmates, and they will greatly influence the state’s recidivism rate. Florida’s opioid crisis is at its peak, and the DOC has long reported an increase in substance abuse cases as offenders who are dealing with those issues enter the criminal justice system. Additionally, without the proper transitional programs for inmates to successfully reenter society, their chances of re-offending are greater. This poses a major threat to Florida’s public safety. Reducing substance abuse treatment and re-entry programs is a reckless decision that will have serious adverse consequences that the state and its residents simply cannot afford.
These harmful cuts are the outcomes that criminal justice reform advocates have feared for years. We have previously called on the Legislature to adequately fund critical health and rehabilitative services and warned of the potential harmful consequences of years of underfunding. We hope this will be the final wake up call that lawmakers desperately need to increase funding and commit to sustainable criminal justice reform policies. It’s unfortunate that it had to come at the expense of the well-being of inmates and of communities as successful reentry is threatened.