February 8, 2022

Report: Federal ARPA Dollars Could Alleviate DOC and Clerks of Court Budget Woes, Improve Public Safety

Non-partisan think tank urges state lawmakers to use federal funding toward criminal justice reform  

ORLANDO, Fla. - Florida lawmakers could address major issues at Florida’s Department of Corrections (DOC), which include decimated education and rehabilitation programming and deteriorating buildings and vehicles, along with a massive backlog of court cases plaguing Florida’s Clerks of Court by following the lead of other states that made strategic investments in criminal justice reform and public safety using federal American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA) dollars, according to a new Florida Policy Institute (FPI) analysis.

In Seizing the Opportunity: How Florida Can Leverage ARPA Funds Toward Criminal Justice Reform, FPI cautions that despite increased funding in recent years and a reduced prison population, the DOC has continued struggling to meet some of its statutory responsibilities, including complying with federal Americans with Disabilities Act guidelines and providing meaningful educational programming.

Citing examples of criminal justice investments that lawmakers in other states — like Texas and Washington — have made using ARPA dollars, FPI recommends the following:

  • Allocating over $313 million to repair DOC’s deteriorating building, transportation, and internet infrastructure. FPI notes in particular that more than 20 percent of DOC’s housing units lack air conditioning, and that the outdated internet system is unable to host programming that can help with rehabilitation.  
  • Investing $31.3 million to replenish the massive cuts to DOC’s educational and vocational programs. This would make up for massive funding reductions in this area between FY 2014-15 and FY 2020-21, according to FPI,  which has resulted in a vast gap in educational access for those who are in prison and in need of general education. Additionally, one of the strongest contributors to violence in Florida’s prisons is the lack of useful educational activities for incarcerated individuals.
  • Granting $28 million to the Clerks of Court Operations Corporation to address the backlog of court cases caused by COVID-19. Florida’s clerks are experiencing an unprecedented lag in processing court cases as a result of the pandemic, FPI notes, with an estimated 1 million cases pending as of July 2021. The clerks of courts are perfectly positioned to receive ARPA money given that these funds are inherently for COVID-19 recovery.  

“State lawmakers have, over the past decade, implemented a series of short-term fixes to Department of Corrections issues that really require long-term solutions,” said Sadaf Knight, CEO of FPI. “With the influx of American Rescue Plan Act dollars comes a critical opportunity to mitigate the department’s budget crisis and help foster successful reentry by improving education and rehabilitation programming for incarcerated individuals.”

The analysis, authored by FPI Policy Analyst Tachana Joseph-Marc, is the first in what will be a short series of briefs that make recommendations on how state lawmakers can use federal ARPA dollars to foster shared prosperity in Florida.

Language in ARPA stipulates that states must use all funds by December 31, 2024.

FPI is an independent, nonpartisan and nonprofit organization dedicated to advancing state policies and budgets that improve the economic mobility and quality of life for all Floridians.

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