Spending "Smart" on Justice

Photo of a prison interior
TAMPA (2009-11-17) -

Law enforcement officers, prosecutors and mental health experts are calling on Florida legislators to spend more money on drug treatment, re-entry programs and diversion strategies instead of expanding state prisons.

That’s a bottom line message from a two day “Smart Justice Summit” in Tampa.

Florida is behind several states when it comes to reforming its justice system. But a few programs are working to decrease Florida’s estimated 33 percent recidivism rate.

Volusia County is having success with an online drug intervention program. Jacksonville has improved services for inmates returning to the community. And, Orange County is getting treatment for people with mental illnesses instead of jailing them.

But last year’s budget crisis had lawmakers cutting less expensive drug treatment programs according to Mark Fontaine, executive director of the Florida Alcohol and Drug Abuse Association.

“Even though we had no money at the end we found $9 million to give private prisons an increase,” Fontaine said. “So the question is about how we spend the money and what the priorities are.”

The Collins Center for Public Policy sponsored the Smart Justice Summit and is collecting ideas on how to better spend money on reforms that will keep former felons and others out of prison.

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