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Rick Scott, Governor
Florida Department of Corrections, Secretary Michael D. Crews

Florida Department of Corrections
Michael D. Crews, Secretary

Eight Misconceptions about Florida Prisons

1."Inmates don't work."

Inmate labor is used to construct new correctional facilities, and support and maintain the ongoing operation of correctional institutions. Inmates also cook, help maintain prison grounds, farm and garden, participate in sanitation and recycling processes, and work for PRIDE (Prison Rehabilitative Industries and Diversified Enterprises) and PIE (Prison Industry Enhancement) programs. Additionally, inmates are assigned to the department's Community Work Squad program. These inmates perform services under agreements with the Department of Transportation, other state agencies such as the Division of Forestry, and the Department of Highway Safety, counties, cities, municipalities, and non-profit organizations.

It is the policy and practice of the department to maximize the use of inmate labor within available resources. All inmates available (51,245) on June 30, 1996 were assigned to work and/or self-betterment programs (i.e. academic or vocational training). However, the department does not have sufficient full-time meaningful assignments for all inmates available for work and/or programs.

Inmates in the correctional system can be separated into three general groups. The first group includes inmates available for work and/or programs on June 30, 1996. There were 51,245 inmates in this group that day. The second group contains those inmates unavailable to work for reasons of their status, i.e. inmates in the reception process, in confinement or close management status, inmates with health restrictions, or those on death row. On June 30, 1996, there were 11,002 inmates unavailable for work and/or programs. The third group contains those inmates who are assigned to private prisons and do not participate in state operated work and/or programs. There were 2,086 in this group that day. Of the 51,245 inmates available for work and/or programs on June 30, 1996, there were 39,561 full-time work and/or program assignments available, leaving 11,684 inmates without full-time work and/or program assignments that day.

Inmate Work and/or Program Assignments
on June 30, 1996
Inmates available for assignment 51,245
Inmates unavailable for assignment 11,002
Inmates assigned to private prisons 2,086
Inmate population on June 30, 1996 64,333
Inmates available for assignment 51,245
Work and/or Program assignments available 39,561
Able inmates without full-time assignments 11,684

2. "Inmates have cable television and satellite dishes."

There are no correctional facilities with cable television. The few prisons that have satellite dishes use them for staff training and academic classes for inmates as part of the Corrections Distance Learning Network (CDLN). The CDLN saves money by training staff throughout the state simultaneously and teaching inmates via satellite. The satellites are not used for recreational viewing. Most prisons have televisions available to inmates for use when inmates are not in school or working. The televisions are located in dormitory dayrooms for group viewing. Most of the department's televisions were paid for through the Inmate Welfare Trust Fund, which is funded with proceeds from canteen sales made to inmates. However, since state law now prohibits the purchase of televisions for recreational purposes, the department must rely on community donations to replace or provide new televisions. No taxpayer dollars contribute to the purchase of televisions for inmates.

3. "Most inmates are released early because of prison overcrowding."

No inmates have been released early from prison because of overcrowding since December 1994. Early release began in FY 1987-88, when 89% of inmates released from prison that year benefited from some time off their sentence due to overcrowding. Early release, also known as Control Release, ended in December 1994 for several reasons: declining admissions, accelerated prison construction, an increase in prison bed funding and alternative diversionary programs.

4. "Inmates still aren't serving most of their sentences."

For offenses committed on or after October 1, 1995, inmates are required to serve a minimum of 85% of their sentences. Since most of the inmates in prison today committed their crimes before that date, the 85% rule will not apply to them, though the percentage of their sentence they are serving continues to rise. Of the 22,720 inmates released from prison in FY 1995-96, they served an average of 65.4% of their sentences, compared to 33.9% five years ago (June 1991).

5. "Inmates spend all day lifting weights and playing basketball."

Much of the inmate population works and/or attends classes. Once those tasks are completed, inmates are allowed time for wellness activities, which include weightlifting and basketball. The department has a structured wellness/activity program at each major institution. Exercise and activity programs are security enhancements because inmates with unstructured time are a threat to the safety and security of an institution. Idleness greatly increases the potential for assaults on staff and other inmates.

6. "Inmates eat better and have better health care than average citizens."

In 1993, the state received a final judgment in the Costello v. Singletary case. In it, the Court mandated minimum levels for space, food service and health care for inmates. Under the Costello agreement, inmate meals must comply with the guidelines for nutrition from the National Academy of Sciences. The department also voluntarily complies with American Heart Association dietary guidelines. Specifically, no more than 30% of the calories in the meals prepared for inmates may come from fat. Inmates perform most of the meal preparation and last fiscal year they grew 5 million pounds of vegetables. The meals are inexpensive, averaging .74 cents per meal, because they are simply prepared, the food is bought in bulk, and uniform menus are used throughout the state to further control costs. As for health care, the state is required to provide appropriate levels of medical, dental and mental health care to inmates while they are in the department's care. This includes providing AZT and other drugs to inmates with AIDS, repairing teeth and providing counseling or appropriate medication to inmates with mental health problems.

7. "Prisons are air-conditioned."

Only seven of the 55 major state prisons in Florida have air-conditioning in the living areas, and many of these are located in South Florida. Portions of the following institutions have air-conditioning: Brevard CI, Broward CI, Dade CI, Hillsborough CI, Lancaster CI, Union CI and Corrections Mental Health Institution. These prisons were built in the 1970s or were built by the former Department of Health and Rehabilitative Services (HRS) for their juvenile justice programs. Union CI was built in 1913 and has since been renovated with air-conditioning in some areas, such as its hospital. Corrections Mental Health Institution, which houses mentally ill inmates, employs both HRS and Corrections staff. Prisons built under the privatization contract are air-conditioned.

8. "Inmates who get life sentences don't really stay in prison for life."

Offenders will serve a life term for any crime committed today for which they are sentenced to life. Offenders sentenced to life for non-capital crimes committed on or after October 1, 1983 are serving life sentences without any chance for release. Offenders sentenced to life for capital crimes committed on or after October 1, 1983 are parole eligible after serving 25 year mandatory sentences. However, if an offender committed capital murder on or after May 25, 1994 or capital sexual battery on or after October 1, 1995, then he or she is not eligible for parole.