TALLAHASSEE, Fla. – A bill on the desk of Gov. Rick Scott gives prison inmates a reason to receive an education and therefore lower their chances of becoming repeat offenders.
The bill would let prisoners be released two months early if they complete their high school education while behind bars.
One of four prisoners in the state ends up back in prison within three years of his or her release. The average felon in a Florida prison has just a sixth-grade education.
The lack of education combined with a criminal record can make it difficult to find employment. More often than not, no job leads to a criminal relapse.
Other states with similar laws have seen drastic reductions of return offenders, said Barney Bishop, president and CEO of the Florida Smart Justice Alliance.
“Part 1-A is getting them the education,” Bishop said. “Part 1-B is then getting them that job, and if we can do those two things, then the chance of them recidivating is diminished.”
Providing prisoners with an education behind bars means these people will leave with a better shot at life than they might have otherwise had. The bill is a part of a shifting attitude among Florida prison system officials.
(The idea is to) "Present programming to inmates, encourage them to do the program and get the education, get the additional skills (and) reward them for that,” corrections secretary Julie Jones said. “So we put out a better citizen when they leave prison.”
Not only will released prisoners be more marketable to potential future employers, but their self-esteem may also increase.
“It makes them proud of themselves,” Bishop said. “More importantly, it makes them understand that if they work hard (and if) they're diligent, that they have the opportunity to succeed.”
Prisoners serving a life sentence or a mandatory minimum would not qualify for the reduced sentence under the bill.
Each prisoner who leaves two months early will save taxpayers about $3,000 in room and board.
An even bigger impact on lowering recidivism would happen if the state provided better addiction and mental health treatment behind bars, the Florida Smart Justice Alliance said.