Florida’s sheriff-run jails would be the beneficiaries of the fallout of Florida’s troubled prison system under a bill passed unanimously Wednesday by a House committee that would allow courts to keep inmates in county jails for up to two years to avoid entering the state’s prison system.
Under the plan, the state would pay counties up to $60 a day to house inmates with lower-level felony convictions who have sentences that do not exceed two years. Current law allows counties to house state prisoners for only a year or less.
The proposal would apply to counties that volunteer to accept the state inmates and is likely to be used most by rural county jails, where the average daily cost is less than $60. In South Florida, where the cost to house a prisoner is more than twice what the state will pay, counties could lose money under the plan.
“This is an experimental approach to see if we can reduce recividivsm…separate lower level offenders from the harden offenders at the state level,’’ said Rep. Danny Burgess, R-Zephyrhills, who managed the bill for the House Justice Appropriations Subcommittee on Wednesday. “We’re trying see if this works.”
While the proposal would benefit counties, it would also cost the state an estimated $5.8 million in additional funds to send inmates who would have been housed in Florida prisons at a cost of $44 a day to the county jails which would be paid $60.
The proposal has the support of the Florida Sheriff’s Association and drew bi-partisan support during the hearing.
“It’s an idea whose time has come,’’ said Rep. Darryl Rouson of St. Petersburg, the ranking Democrat on the committee. “I think it will save the state money, help the counties, help family support in different locations.”
He noted, however, that some county jails have eliminated drug treatment programs because of budget cuts and some of the additional money should go into restoring those programs if they are housing state inmates on drug offenses.
“This opens the door for a lot of things to happen and I’m very happy to support this bill,’’ he said.