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

Florida Department of Corrections
Timothy H. Cannon, Interim Secretary

Misconceptions

Nine Misconceptions about Florida Prisons

This fact sheet is intended to clarify misconceptions about the Department of Corrections. You are encouraged to copy and circulate it.

1."Inmates don't work."

On June 30, 1997, there were 64,713 inmates in the Florida prison system. Private prisons housed 3,922 inmates and the remaining 60,791 were in DC facilities. Eighty-three percent of the inmates in DC institutions and facilities in Florida on the last day of the fiscal year (June 30, 1997) worked, participated in programs such as vocational or academic classes, or a combination of work and programs. The remaining 17 percent were either physically unable to work, were going through the reception and orientation process or were in some type of confinement for management purposes, including death row.

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. Last fiscal year, the DC's Community Work Squad Program saved Florida taxpayers $23.5 million through inmate labor.

2. "Why don't inmates grow their own food?"

They do grow some of their own food, though it would be difficult to grow enough to feed over 64,000 inmates daily. Last year, the DC's farm and gardening program expanded to 66 facilities, covering 436 acres, producing almost 3.4 million pounds of vegetables, and logging over 534,000 hours of inmate labor. In addition, the department has aquaculture programs at Hendry and Cross City CI's. These programs involve the raising and harvesting of freshwater fish for consumption by the inmates. This fiscal year, inmates harvested 1,553 pounds of catfish and 4,289 pounds of tilapia, valued at $13,518.

3. "Why don't inmates do some work to help communities?"

Inmates are working behind the scenes in almost every community in the state. Some examples:

    Weatherfix
    Inmates at Sumter CI are volunteering to roof homes, install screens, add weather-stripping, repair appliances, bathrooms and kitchens; and build wheelchair ramps for the homebound in cooperation with Mid-Florida Community Services, Inc. for Weatherfix-State Housing Initiative Partnership (SHIP).
    Helping DJJ
    Inmates at Hendry CI and work camp assisted with the construction of a 32-bed wilderness camp and a 30-bed halfway house for the Department of Juvenile Justice, putting in over 62,000 hours of inmate labor.
    Right-to-Sight
    Inmates at Lake CI, in partnership with the Lake County Lions Club, help provide recycled eye glasses to indigents nationally and internationally. Lions Club members collect the glasses and inmates sort, wash, repair, process them through a lensometer, label and package them. About 40,000 pairs of glasses have been recycled as a result of this partnership.
    Talking Books
    Inmates at Daytona Beach CCC assist the Division of Blind Services by inspecting, sorting, rewinding and filing tapes and books for the blind, and preparing them to ship. Tomoka CI inmates record magazines, textbooks and other literature; clean, repair and refurbish tape players; and repair Braille machines for the blind.
    Guide Dogs
    Inmates at the Gainesville Work Camp have been training guide dogs for the Southeastern Guide Dog Association since 1991. Once the dogs complete their training, they are returned to the Association for additional training and placement.

4. "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 working or attending educational programs. The televisions are located in dormitory dayrooms for group viewing. Most of the department's televisions were paid for by proceeds from sales to inmates from the inmate canteens. However, state law now prohibits the purchase of televisions for recreational purposes.

5. "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 February 1987. In FY 1987-88, 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 and an increase in prison bed funding and diversionary programs.

6. "The Department of Corrections determines how long inmates serve in prison."

The Department of Corrections does not determine the length of prison sentences or the length of time inmates serve in prison. These decisions are made by judges and juries, in accordance with state laws and sentencing guidelines. The department is solely responsible for the care and custody of offenders under its jurisdiction.

7. "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. The average percentage of sentence served by inmates released in June 1997 was 71%, as compared to 34% only five years ago.

8. "Prisons are air-conditioned."

Only seven of the 55 major state-managed prisons in Florida have air-conditioning in some portion of the facility, and many of these are located in South Florida. The following institutions have air-conditioning: Brevard C.I., Broward C.I., Dade C.I., Hillsborough C.I., and Lancaster C.I. Four were built in the 1970s and one was built by the former Department of Health and Rehabilitative Services (HRS) for their juvenile justice programs. In addition, 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 (CMHI), which houses mentally ill inmates, is air-conditioned. Facilities built under the privatization contract are air-conditioned.

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

Today anyone sentenced to life in prison will serve a life term. 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.

Survey Results of General Public and News Media

In March 1997, the University of Florida's Bureau of Economic and Business Research conducted a telephone survey of 1,002 Floridians at the request of the Department of Corrections. The purpose of the survey was to gather baseline data on the general public's knowledge and image of the DC, as required in the DC's Agency Strategic Plan. In June 1997, an identical survey of 366 news media representatives was conducted. The following are some of the results of those surveys.

Time Served and Overcrowding

  • General Public: 28.5% indicate that they think prison overcrowding is the DC's most pressing issue and 68.5% said they think Florida needs more state prisons.
    News Media: 40.1% indicate that they think prison overcrowding is the DC's most pressing issue and 50.3% said they think Florida needs more state prisons.
In reality, the DC currently has a sufficient number of prison beds to serve its needs.
  • General Public: 95.5% think inmates are released early from prison because of overcrowding.
    News Media: 87.6% think inmates are released early from prison because of overcrowding.
In reality, early release due to prison overcrowding was eliminated in December 1994.
  • General Public: 64% said the percentage of sentence served today is lower than it was five years ago.
    News Media: 46.4% said the percentage of sentence served today is lower than it was five years ago.
Actually, sentences served have more than doubled in that time- from 34% in June 1992 to 71.1% in June 1997.

Television
  • General Public: 93.8% think inmates have access to television and 50.6% disapprove.
    News Media: 95.1% think inmates have access to television and 69.5% approve.
Inmates have only limited access to television. No new television sets are purchased with taxpayer dollars.

Escapes

  • General Public: 63.6% said the DC is doing an excellent or good job of preventing escapes.
    News Media: 73.5% said the DC is doing an excellent or good job of preventing escapes.
In fact, escapes are at their lowest level in more than 11 years. Of the nine inmates who escaped from major institutions in FY 96-97, seven (77.8%) were recaptured, five of them within 24 hours.

Overall Evaluation

  • General Public: Almost one in four Floridians give the DC an excellent or good overall job rating (23.4%). 52.7% said the DC is doing a fair job overall.
    News Media: Almost one in three news media representatives give the DC an excellent or good overall job rating (29.5%). 54.9% said the DC is doing a fair job overall. Less than one in four general public respondents and only 11.2% of news media respondents think the DC is doing a poor job of running the state prison system.