In a presentation given to the state House Justice Appropriations Subcommittee last month, Florida’s Department of Corrections (DOC) reported that the cost of mental health services for inmates and an aging population are driving up the total cost of health care. These revelations are not news– historically, the department has been wedded to a cycle of financial shortfalls.
Notably, this fiscal year, DOC’s budget deficit led to a decrease of $10.7 million in community corrections (transitional housing and substance abuse and mental health treatment) and $17.8 million in prison educational and re-entry programs. Gov. Ron DeSantis’ proposed budget acknowledged the department’s funding woes by recommending a 21 percent increase over the current year budget. But while many have pinned DOC’s budget troubles on an aging inmate population, pressing mental health requirements and court-ordered mandates, these are symptoms of bigger, long-time issues. For too long, the state has been focused on applying band-aids and neglecting to provide any real treatments that would alleviate, or even stop, the financial bleeding of the department. The proper cure is criminal justice reform.