Texas state Rep. Jerry Madden, R-Plano, told Florida lawmakers today the best way to cut the state's prison budget is to "Spend your money on the swingers." Sounds kinky, but what he meant was put your resources into prisoners on whom you can have an impact. Most often, he said, those are prisoners who have drug, alcohol and mental health problems.
Madden said prisoners can largely be divided into three categories: Those who will never return, those who are guaranteed to return, and those who won't return if they are enrolled in the right programs. It's the third category that gives you the most bang for your buck, he said, so it's worth it to invest in drug and alcohol treatment programs.
"You've got a captive audience. They're going to show up," he said. "If someone's a drug addict, break their habit."
The goal, he said, is to keep people out of prison and stop using taxpayer money to provide room, board and health care to people who are only a danger to society because they have substance abuse or mental health problems.
"If he's locked up in your prisons for that, why don't you treat him? Particularly if he's one of those guys that may or may not come back," Madden said. "Don't spend one cent on a person who's always coming back, or the person who's never coming back."
Madden also suggested giving judges more leeway in sentencing guidelines, creating school programs to stop high-risk children from becoming criminals, and changing penalties so that minor parole violations don't result in extensive time behind bars.
Madden was speaking at a joint meeting of the Senate criminal justice committee and subcommittee on criminal and civil justice appropriations. Several committee members, including Sen. Greg Evers and Sen. Mike Bennett, asked if such measures prompt criticism of being soft on crime. Madden said, no: "If you do things that affect the low-risk and nonviolent offenders, your public supports those kinds of reforms." And, he said, both conservative and liberal groups will respond to the cost-cutting argument.
After the meeting, Evers said to cut the prison budget, Florida may need to revisit some of its criminal justice rules, including one that requires offenders to serve 85 percent of their sentences. That was a suggestion made by Gov. Rick Scott's law and order transition team. Scott has pledged to cut $1 billion from the state's prison budget. Evers, though, said he hasn't had any conversations with the governor about where those cuts should come from.