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The TaxWatch Research Blog is a forum where our research staff can address topics and issues in a short format. Keep an eye on this space during Legislative Session for frequent posts making sense of the activity at the Capitol. 

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Expanding Job Opportunities for Non-Violent Offenders

With more than‚Ä≠ ‚Ĩ100,000‚Ä≠ ‚Ĩinmates‚Ä≠ ‚Ĩbehind bars,‚Ä≠ ‚ĨFlorida’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≠ ‚Ĩmore than one-in-four‚Ä≠ ‚Ĩreturn to prison within three years of their release.‚Ä≠  ‚ĨWhen these individuals cycle in and out of state and local facilities,‚Ä≠ ‚Ĩthey run up an enormous bill that is shouldered by Florida taxpayers.‚Ä≠ ‚ĨIt costs an average of‚Ä≠ ‚Ĩnearly‚Ä≠ ‚Ĩ$19,000‚Ä≠ ‚Ĩper year to house an inmate‚Ä≠ – ‚Ĩmore than three times the cost of tuition at the University of Florida.‚Ä≠

Allowing‭ ‬non-violent prisoners‭ ‬who have paid their debt to society a better chance to be considered for employment could help reduce recidivism,‭ ‬improve public safety,‭ ‬and‭ ‬save taxpayers millions of‭ ‬dollars each year.

More than‚Ä≠ ‚Ĩ30,000‚Ä≠ ‚Ĩinmates are released‚Ä≠ ‚Ĩfrom Florida prisons annually.‚Ä≠ ‚ĨThis means nearly‚Ä≠ ‚Ĩ8,000‚Ä≠ ‚Ĩinmates released from prison in‚Ä≠ ‚Ĩ2016‚Ä≠ ‚Ĩwill be back‚Ä≠ ‚Ĩbehind bars by‚Ä≠ ‚Ĩ2019,‚Ä≠ ‚Ĩand‚Ä≠ ‚Ĩ21,000‚Ä≠ ‚Ĩwill have been arrested within that same time frame after unnecessarily hurting Florida’s families and businesses.‚Ä≠ ‚ĨWhile these numbers have decreased in recent years,‚Ä≠ ‚Ĩthey still suggest that Florida must improve‚Ä≠ ‚Ĩthe odds of success for‚Ä≠ ‚Ĩoffenders‚Ä≠’ ‚Ĩre-entry into society.‚Ä≠

One of the most difficult challenges a prisoner faces upon release is finding a steady job.‚Ä≠  ‚ĨThe unemployment rate in Florida has decreased since‚Ä≠ ‚Ĩ2010,‚Ä≠ ‚Ĩbut the job market in the Sunshine State remains competitive,‚Ä≠ ‚Ĩposing a challenge for released offenders trying to re-enter the work force.‚Ä≠

While many offenders participate in educational,‚Ä≠ ‚Ĩvocational,‚Ä≠ ‚Ĩand work-release programs before and after their release,‚Ä≠ ‚Ĩthe 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≠  ‚ĨBeyond legal limits on employment options,‚Ä≠ ‚Ĩreleased offenders also face non-statutory obstacles when they look for work.‚Ä≠  ‚ĨNational studies show that having a record‚Ä≠ (‚Ĩbut otherwise similar backgrounds‚Ä≠) ‚Ĩdecreases the chance of a job applicant receiving a callback after an interview by up to‚Ä≠ ‚Ĩ75‚Ä≠ ‚Ĩpercent.‚Ä≠  ‚ĨThis poses a serious problem,‚Ä≠ ‚Ĩas 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≠  ‚ĨThe federal government has incentives to encourage employers to consider ex-offenders for employment,‚Ä≠ ‚Ĩthe most notable being the Work Opportunity Tax Credit which allows for up to‚Ä≠ ‚Ĩ$9,600‚Ä≠ ‚Ĩin tax reductions for businesses‚Ä≠ ‚Ĩthat hire qualified ex-offenders.‚Ä≠  ‚ĨSeveral states have added to this effort and a similar push in Florida could be beneficial.‚Ä≠  ‚ĨA few policymakers highlighted this during the‚Ä≠ ‚Ĩ2015‚Ä≠ ‚ĨLegislative Session in bills that sought to create a‚Ä≠ ‚Ĩ$1,000‚Ä≠ ‚Ĩstate tax credit for employers hiring ex-offenders and accepting vocational referrals.

These tax credits actually save taxpayers money.‚Ä≠ ‚ĨFor every‚Ä≠ ‚Ĩ100‚Ä≠ ‚Ĩinmates that find employment and do not re-offend,‚Ä≠ ‚Ĩthe state can save at least‚Ä≠ ‚Ĩ$2‚Ä≠ ‚Ĩmillion in future corrections costs.‚Ä≠  ‚ĨThat doesn’t include the increase in public safety that comes with ex-offenders working rather than committing crimes.‚Ä≠ ‚ĨFlorida needs to get serious about improving employment opportunities for ex-offenders.‚Ä≠ ‚ĨAs our legislative leaders search for ways to save taxpayer‚Ä≠’ ‚Ĩmoney,‚Ä≠ ‚Ĩhelping 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.‭ ‬Calabro is president and CEO of Florida TaxWatch.

Featured in Sunshine State News and the Tallahassee Democrat.
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