Featured in Sunshine State News and the Tallahassee Democrat.
With more than‚Ä≠ ‚Ä¨100,000‚Ä≠ ‚Ä¨inmates‚Ä≠ ‚Ä¨behind bars,‚Ä≠ ‚Ä¨Florida’s correctional population is among the largest in the United States.
One of the primary causes for the high population is that more than two-thirds of offenders are re-arrested and‚Ä≠ ‚Ä¨more than one-in-four‚Ä≠ ‚Ä¨return to prison within three years of their release.‚Ä≠ ‚Ä¨When these individuals cycle in and out of state and local facilities,‚Ä≠ ‚Ä¨they run up an enormous bill that is shouldered by Florida taxpayers.‚Ä≠ ‚Ä¨It costs an average of‚Ä≠ ‚Ä¨nearly‚Ä≠ ‚Ä¨$19,000‚Ä≠ ‚Ä¨per year to house an inmate‚Ä≠ – ‚Ä¨more than three times the cost of tuition at the University of Florida.‚Ä≠
Allowing‚Ä≠ ‚Ä¨non-violent prisoners‚Ä≠ ‚Ä¨who have paid their debt to society a better chance to be considered for employment could help reduce recidivism,‚Ä≠ ‚Ä¨improve public safety,‚Ä≠ ‚Ä¨and‚Ä≠ ‚Ä¨save taxpayers millions of‚Ä≠ ‚Ä¨dollars each year.
More than‚Ä≠ ‚Ä¨30,000‚Ä≠ ‚Ä¨inmates are released‚Ä≠ ‚Ä¨from Florida prisons annually.‚Ä≠ ‚Ä¨This means nearly‚Ä≠ ‚Ä¨8,000‚Ä≠ ‚Ä¨inmates released from prison in‚Ä≠ ‚Ä¨2016‚Ä≠ ‚Ä¨will be back‚Ä≠ ‚Ä¨behind bars by‚Ä≠ ‚Ä¨2019,‚Ä≠ ‚Ä¨and‚Ä≠ ‚Ä¨21,000‚Ä≠ ‚Ä¨will have been arrested within that same time frame after unnecessarily hurting Florida’s families and businesses.‚Ä≠ ‚Ä¨While these numbers have decreased in recent years,‚Ä≠ ‚Ä¨they still suggest that Florida must improve‚Ä≠ ‚Ä¨the odds of success for‚Ä≠ ‚Ä¨offenders‚Ä≠’ ‚Ä¨re-entry into society.‚Ä≠
One of the most difficult challenges a prisoner faces upon release is finding a steady job.‚Ä≠ ‚Ä¨The unemployment rate in Florida has decreased since‚Ä≠ ‚Ä¨2010,‚Ä≠ ‚Ä¨but the job market in the Sunshine State remains competitive,‚Ä≠ ‚Ä¨posing a challenge for released offenders trying to re-enter the work force.‚Ä≠
While many offenders participate in educational,‚Ä≠ ‚Ä¨vocational,‚Ä≠ ‚Ä¨and work-release programs before and after their release,‚Ä≠ ‚Ä¨the truth is that no amount of programming can put someone who has served time on an even playing field with someone who has not.‚Ä≠ ‚Ä¨Beyond legal limits on employment options,‚Ä≠ ‚Ä¨released offenders also face non-statutory obstacles when they look for work.‚Ä≠ ‚Ä¨National studies show that having a record‚Ä≠ (‚Ä¨but otherwise similar backgrounds‚Ä≠) ‚Ä¨decreases the chance of a job applicant receiving a callback after an interview by up to‚Ä≠ ‚Ä¨75‚Ä≠ ‚Ä¨percent.‚Ä≠ ‚Ä¨This poses a serious problem,‚Ä≠ ‚Ä¨as unemployment for offenders has been consistently linked to increases in recidivism and decreased public safety.
The nation has long sought solutions addressing the cycle between unemployment and keeping ex-offenders from returning to prison.‚Ä≠ ‚Ä¨The federal government has incentives to encourage employers to consider ex-offenders for employment,‚Ä≠ ‚Ä¨the most notable being the Work Opportunity Tax Credit which allows for up to‚Ä≠ ‚Ä¨$9,600‚Ä≠ ‚Ä¨in tax reductions for businesses‚Ä≠ ‚Ä¨that hire qualified ex-offenders.‚Ä≠ ‚Ä¨Several states have added to this effort and a similar push in Florida could be beneficial.‚Ä≠ ‚Ä¨A few policymakers highlighted this during the‚Ä≠ ‚Ä¨2015‚Ä≠ ‚Ä¨Legislative Session in bills that sought to create a‚Ä≠ ‚Ä¨$1,000‚Ä≠ ‚Ä¨state tax credit for employers hiring ex-offenders and accepting vocational referrals.
These tax credits actually save taxpayers money.‚Ä≠ ‚Ä¨For every‚Ä≠ ‚Ä¨100‚Ä≠ ‚Ä¨inmates that find employment and do not re-offend,‚Ä≠ ‚Ä¨the state can save at least‚Ä≠ ‚Ä¨$2‚Ä≠ ‚Ä¨million in future corrections costs.‚Ä≠ ‚Ä¨That doesn’t include the increase in public safety that comes with ex-offenders working rather than committing crimes.‚Ä≠ ‚Ä¨Florida needs to get serious about improving employment opportunities for ex-offenders.‚Ä≠ ‚Ä¨As our legislative leaders search for ways to save taxpayer‚Ä≠’ ‚Ä¨money,‚Ä≠ ‚Ä¨helping offen ders get to work will make our state safer and allow for investments that will benefit all Floridians rather than maintaining a costly cycle of incarceration.
Dominic M.‚Ä≠ ‚Ä¨Calabro is president and CEO of Florida TaxWatch.