Incoming Florida Funds – Aimed for Criminal Justice Reform?

March 7, 2022 Criminal Defense, News & Announcements

On March 11, 2021, President Biden signed the American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA) into law, which would help grant financial relief to states and local governments that were affected by COVID-19. This was a one-time-one grant, and Florida received a total of $8.8 billion.

So far, the state of Florida has only received $4.4 billion of the total amount, and it has gone towards workforce development, education, infrastructure, and environmental projects. One place that should seek out help from the ARPA funding is the Department of Corrections (DOC).

The funding from ARPA could offer a window of opportunity for the Legislature to help provide sufficient funding to areas in need that have been underfunded in the past. Even if the ARPA funding isn’t recurring, it could help initiate a long-overdue change in the state’s prison system.

Florida Prison Situation

The Department of Corrections (DOC) received a budget increase of 26% from 2015 to 2020, and there was also a decline of the prison population by 25%. However, even still the department has been struggling to provide proper health care, education, and other responsibilities.

According to the DOC Annual Report, in 2020 there was a need for education for 66% of inmates, yet only 4% were actually enrolled in a class. In addition, the ratio of teacher to student was 1:1,500. Even with the decreased population, the DOC’s secretary warned that there is a current crisis within the department, partially due to the backlog of cases from COVID-19.

The Criminal Justice Estimating Conference projected that Florida’s prison population will rise to 86,233 by the end of the 2021-2022 year, and again up to 93,414 by the end of the 2026-2027 year. The current challenges the DOC is facing will only continue to intensify, which is why there is a dire need for financial assistance.

How Other States Have Utilized Funds for Criminal Justice Projects

Florida is not the only state that has been given funds to help in various areas. Some states have already focused on spending the funds on topics involving criminal justice. According to the National Conference of State Legislatures, the following is a list from the “ARPA State Fiscal Recovery Fund Allocations” from 2021:

  • Texas – Invested over $20 million into addressing backlogs of court cases, and $54.8 million in grants and services to offer to crime victims.
  • Washington – The Department of Corrections programs received an allocated lump sum, which includes $3.29 million in health care, $5.87 million for community supervision, and $31.7 million for vocational and work training programs.
  • Minnesota – Allocated $13.91 million for the judicial branch, along with the board of public defense.
  • Virginia – Invested $12.2 million in grants and services offered for victims of crime.
  • Arizona – $1.2 million distributed in grants and services for victims of crimes.

How the ARPA Funds Could Benefit Criminal Justice in Florida

The following are just a few highlighted ways that the state Legislature can use ARPA funding towards criminal justice reform in Florida:

Repairing the transportation, deterioration of buildings, and internet infrastructure of the DOC

The infrastructure of state institutions and prisons are in need of renovations. For example, back in 2021, the Cross City Correctional Institution had to close due to flooding. According to the report, approximately 1,500 inmates were forced to temporarily relocate. There is also a severe need for the installation of air conditioning, as only 150 out of 623 DOC housing units currently have working air conditioning. During the peak of Florida summer, this can be extremely uncomfortable. According to the annual report, transportation is also in severe need of replacement, and the internet system is ‘archaic’ and unable to host any beneficial programs to help with rehabilitation. An estimated $313 million would be necessary to provide these necessary improvements.

Support for the DOC’s educational and vocational programs

The DOC’s Annual Report from 2020-2021 highlights that one of the main contributors to violence in the prison institutes in Florida is the lack of educational activities for those incarcerated. Without the proper educational programming, violence is more easily initiated and any sort of opportunity for rehabilitation is further and further out of reach. Even with the DOC funding, education has remained a section that is lacking. The annual report states that $24 million has been cut from educational programs from 2015-2020. With the use of the ARPA funding, replenishing the educational programs in the prison system would cost a total of $31.3 million.

Addressing the COVID-19 backlog of court cases

It is no surprise that the pandemic has created an unprecedented backlog in processing court cases in Florida—along with the rest of the United States. The annual report indicates that by July of 2021 there were an estimated 1 million court cases pending due to the pandemic. An estimated $28 million from ARPA funding could go to help with the backlog, along with helping court clerks funding.

It seems like a wise choice for Florida to start investing more into rehabilitation services for those currently incarcerated in Florida prisons. By doing so it would help enhance public safety, provide those set to be released with the appropriate tools to reenter society, and show that the large funding is going to a good place. A study from the Harvard University Institute for Politics indicates that when investments are made towards basic education, work training, and substance and disorder treatment, it can be the best option to create successful re-entry into society and avoid recidivism. 

Finding a Defense Attorney in Tallahassee, Florida

If you or a loved one have been accused of a crime in the state of Florida, it is important to seek out help from an experienced Tallahassee criminal defense attorney. Receiving quality legal advice throughout the entire process is imperative for any case. Don Pumphrey and his team at Pumphrey Law Firm have represented clients all across the Sunshine State and understand what it takes to defend your freedom. Call (850) 681-7777 or send an online message today and receive a free consultation regarding your case.

Written by Karissa Key

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