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

Florida Department of Corrections
Michael D. Crews, Secretary

Issue 2: Programs Contributing to Recidivism Prevention

Issue Description

At least 90% of the prison population will at some point be released back to the community. Without the implementation of effective programs and meaningful work opportunities, inmates will continue to be released to society with the same problems which brought them into the criminal justice system. The department's intent is to create and provide programs, services and work opportunities to assist offenders under its custody and supervision in developing skills to improve societal adjustment, thus targeting problems which often cause offenders to have repeated contact with the criminal justice system. These problems include deficiencies in education, lack of marketable employment skills, life and social skills, as well as a history of substance abuse. It is the department's plan to address these issues through a process that integrates education and job training with institutional work and industrial work, to maximize the usefulness and productivity of the offender while incarcerated, under community supervision and upon release.


Data indicates that the majority of offender admissions, both incarcerated and supervised, are under 30 years of age and non-violent. Seventy-six percent (76%) of the inmates admitted to the department tested at a 9th grade level or lower, 58% of those are at or below the sixth grade level. Twenty two percent (22%) of admissions are for sale, possession or manufacture or trafficking in drugs.1

Other Limitations

Offenders have limited work/life management skills, therefore, the department must expose them to and prepare them for opportunities that are alternatives to the cycle of crime which so often trap released offenders. To provide those opportunities, the department must contend with limitations influenced by an uninformed public and inadequate funding for work programs. As an example, Table 2-1 (see End Note 2) compares the total department appropriation for education and drug treatment programs over a six year period.3 It is essential to provide the knowledge, skills and work training/experience to enable offenders to function successfully in the community upon release from incarceration or supervision. No program will assure success for all participants, however, the availability of work experiences and effective programs offers opportunities for participants to develop knowledge, skills, and abilities to assist them in successful re-entry to the community upon release. Functional resource development is the major focus of work and programs for offenders. Successes in dealing with the criminal offender population usually come in small increments. Public expectations in this regard must be reasonable. By being able to measure small gains and translate them into cost avoidance, the department can build support among public policy makers for programs that can produce results in offender's lives over the long run.

Benefits of Successful Programs

Despite the fact that Florida's prison population will continue to increase in numbers, a reduction in the rate of growth can be expected by implementation of successful programs and meaningful work assignments for those incarcerated. Some portion of this cost avoidance would be realized for several years depending on the average length of sentence that would have been received.

A possible additional source of cost avoidance is based on the deceleration of the rate of growth of the inmate population, which will allow for the construction of fewer new beds. Fewer inmates requiring incarceration would potentially save the Florida taxpayers the cost of building and staffing additional correctional facilities. These costs range from $12,700 for a work camp bed to $29,498 for single cell construction.

Other potential benefits might be realized in indirect savings to our State. Those not returning to prison may be gainfully employed, and therefore contributing to the productivity of the State and the tax base, as well as requiring fewer entitlement resources. Compared to the potential cost avoidance, the actual expenditures for programs are apt to be quite reasonable.

Finally, work assignments for inmates result in value added, cost savings, or a combination of both. Value added occurs when utilizing inmate labor to accomplish work for which budgetary funds have not been appropriated. Cost savings occurs when work is accomplished through the use of budgetary funds, but is accomplished for less through the use of inmate labor than what it would have otherwise cost had inmate labor not been utilized. In some instances funds are available to accomplish only a portion of the work required; however, through the use of inmate labor the work project is completed.In such circumstances, both value added and cost savings occur.

Strength, Weaknesses, Opportunities
and Threats (SWOT) Analysis


Progressive leadership:

Department leadership is progressive and determined in its commitment to continually improve the correctional system. Top management has applied the department to the task of seeking the best management practices among any and all private/public organizations that may be adaptable for use in corrections, pilot testing those that show promise and applying proven practices throughout the system where feasible.

Public support:

Over 90% of the random sample of Florida residents surveyed by the University of Florida indicated their belief that offenders should receive education services and substance abuse treatment.

Improving education and vocational training capabilities:

Additional education positions have enabled programs to grow. Computer assisted instruction is now in place in 21 institutions. More inmates can be expected to complete their educational courses due to longer time served. The Corrections Distance Learning Network (CDLN) provides a variety of programs that were previously inaccessible to many inmates due to the lack of education staff at their institution.

Library services:

All the department's correctional institutions have operational library and law library programs, and at least one Librarian Specialist assigned to manage the delivery of services.

Comprehensive drug treatment programs:

The department operates one of the largest correctional drug treatment programs and one of the largest statewide community corrections drug treatment programs in the nation.

Chaplaincy Services:

The inmate population includes adherents of some 20-25 different religions, all of which are included in the Chaplaincy program. This successful program assists management to maintain order and build a more stable environment in prison. About 5,000 volunteers have been recruited for work in the prisons, principally to conduct crisis counseling and share life skills information with inmates.

Efficient health care services:

Recognizing that the physical and mental health of inmates is a public health as well as correctional health care concern, the department provides an efficient health care system to aggressively identify potential threats to inmate health including infectious diseases, and environmental health issues. The Office of Health Services provides about 3 million health care encounters per year for chronic illness care; health education for inmates; and varying levels of care from routine to emergency.

Comprehensive inmate work programs:

The department supports the principle that inmates should work at least 40 hours per week. The inmate work program is geared to approximate what will be expected of the inmate upon return to the community, within the context of security requirements.


Teacher Shortage:

The number of teacher positions continues to lag behind the growth of the inmate population. This is reflected in the ratio of vocational certificates and GEDs earned by inmates which, though increasing in absolute numbers, is lagging as a proportion of the population.

Program appropriateness:

Changing labor market demands require redirection of vocational programs. Future employment demands are likely to be greater in areas such as computer programming and other high tech fields rather than in traditional manual fields.

Insufficient funding resources:

Services and programs are not funded at the level of need.

Limited motivational incentives

Policies restricting traditional incentives used to motivate positive inmate behavior have created a void that affects inmate desire to participate in appropriate programs.

Impediments to inmate work programs:

Impediments to expanding meaningful work and program opportunities for inmates include funding, physical space limitations, security constraints, and restrictions on the type of work that can be performed in the correctional environment.

Litigation over law library programs:

The federal courts have not ruled that the Department's system of law libraries provides inmates with access to the courts (Hooks v. Singletary). As a result, the Department must expend significant resources to defend its law library system in litigation before the U.S. District Court, and it is still required by injunction to fund a costly attorney-assistance program at 3 institutions.

Public awareness of the DC mission:

As pointed out in the recent University of Florida survey, the public suffers from a lack of knowledge about the mission of the department regarding public safety and programs designed to contribute to a reduction of recidivism.

Lack of funding for partnership initiatives:

Funding for the Community Partnership Act have been lacking since its initial year of enactment. As a result, implementation of the initiative stalled and the effectiveness of the Safe Streets Act has suffered. Limited funding has also impeded expansion of the Community Work Squad Program, along with other obstacles such as security constraints and the availability of inmates that can be assigned to the program.


Computer technology:

Access to the INTERNET or INTRANET is a powerful educational tool providing inmate access is fully controlled. An array of CD-ROM material is available for additional enhancement of instruction. Access to educational technology would provide inmates with an incentive for institutional and post-release adjustment.


Recruitment of volunteers has the potential of increasing program effectiveness at little cost.

Crime prevention:

Participating in community outreach programs provides the department an opportunity to help build a crime avoidance culture among community youth.

Special needs supervised offenders:

Opportunities exist to assist offenders with histories of substance and alcohol abuse and/or mental health problems. These inmates are candidates for federally funded special needs programs aimed at helping them to avoid return to the correctional system and their becoming an ongoing cost to the state.

Returns on tax dollars:

Expansion of the Prison Industry and Farm and Gardening Programs, increasing the use of inmate labor under contract to outside entities, and increasing the number of facilities participating in Community Work Squad Programs will produce results that help reduce the cost of incarceration to taxpayers.

Partnerships and funding opportunities:

Partnership linkages with universities, other agencies and the private sector offer opportunities for access to additional federal dollars as well as foundation and corporate grant funds to provide more adequate support for necessary programs and activities of the Department. The newly established Foundation for Partnerships in Correctional Excellence, a direct support organization to the Florida Department of Corrections, will seek funding from various sources including foundations, corporations, government and individual memberships to assist programs and employees of the department.


Budget cuts:

Limiting resources will threaten correctional programs and opportunities to expand valuable full time work experiences for the inmate population. In times of fiscal stringency, funding for expansion of work and program opportunities takes a lower priority than security.

Potential erosion of inmate health care:

Despite aggressive cost-containment and efficiency measures, increasing inmate population and health care needs coupled with increasingly limited resources threatens the effectiveness of the health care program.

Public attitudes:

Public frustration over criminal behavior has led to punitive reactions that are manifested in sentencing policies. The net result has been restrictions on programs. If such punitive attitudes persist, the department may have to curtail programs further.

An Analysis of Recidivism

The credibility of the criminal justice system is challenged each time an offender who has been "processed" through the system commits another crime. Although this is perceived by the community as a barometer of success or failure for the (correctional system) criminal justice system, it is one which is very difficult to measure or control. An offender's success or failure upon return to the community is not under the exclusive control of the Department of Corrections, or any criminal justice agency. Once an offender is released to the community, there are tremendous pressures to revert to old behaviors and there are many variables affecting this outcome.

The Florida Department of Corrections uses the following definition to determine recidivism rates: The rate is defined as a return to prison or sentence to Community Supervision for a new crime occurring within 24 months of the offender's date of release. This definition does not designate technical violators who return to prison to complete their original sentence as recidivists. Also, some offenders will return to prison after release for a new court commitment, but the crime happened prior to their release from prison. These offenders are not counted as recidivists. Inmates who are released to another state are not included in any examination of recidivism rates. This approach is taken because these former inmates have minimal opportunity to commit a new crime in Florida and then be sentenced to prison or supervision. The source of this data is the department's Offender Based Information System. The recidivism rate is calculated for a given year by dividing the number of released inmates that recidivate by the total number of releases.

There is no standard follow-up period to use when measuring recidivism. The department selected 24 months for two reasons. First, the average time from prison release to recidivism was one year for FY 1991-92 releases, indicating that most recidivists will re-offend within two years. Second, recidivism is commonly used as an outcome measure for program evaluations or other interventions. Longer follow-up periods will result in too much time transpiring between the program or intervention and when research can indicate if recidivism is changing as a result. The 24 months follow-up period will permit identification of program inadequacies related to recidivism in a reasonable period of time.

Recidivism Rates Over Time
Percent of Inmates Reoffending
within 24 Months by Fiscal Year
Recidivism Rates Over Time
Chart 2-1. Click for larger view.

Length of Time to
Reoffending of Recidivists

Average Number of Months from Prison Release to New Offense by Fiscal Year for Those That Re-Offend within 2 Years.
Thumbnail of Chart 2-2
Chart 2-2. Click for larger view.

In 1996 the department analyzed recidivism rates of inmates released from Florida prisons. As indicated in Chart 2-1, the recidivism rate dropped 21.7% from the FY 1988-89 rate of 39.7% to the 1993-94 rate of 18%. Chart 2-2 portrays the six year experience in length of time after release to commission of a new offense. This indicates that the recidivism rate is dropping (Chart 2-1), and that those releasees who recidivated are staying out of the system for longer periods after release (9 months in 1993-94 compared to 7.5 months in 1988-89). The department's Bureau of Research and Data Analysis is currently working with the Florida Corrections Research Coalition (FCRC) on an empirical study to identify the causal factors associated with the decline in recidivism rates. The study will also include data related to state-by-state comparisons of recidivism. The projected completion date for the study is January 31,1998.

Table 2-2 provides profile data for recidivating offenders in the study. Females consistently return at a lower rate than males, but the difference in rates has declined steadily along with the decline in recidivism rates. Burglary and robbery have the highest rates of recidivism. The recidivism rate for drug offenses has declined from 42.4% 1988-89 to 17% in 1993-94. These statistics also indicate the older an offender is at release the less likely that offender will recidivate.4

Table 2-2: Profiles of Recidivating Offenders
Demographics Characteristics Release Year
1988-89 1989-90 1990-91 1991-92
Male 39.2% 35.9% 31.9% 27.1%
Female 29.7% 27.0% 25.1% 21.9%
White 24.3% 22.9% 21.1% 19.0%
Black 48.2% 43.2% 38.1% 32.1%
Other 17.8% 18.3% 19.2% 13.9%
Hispanic 22.4% 20.3% 20.6% 18.0%
Non-Hispanic 39.2% 35.8% 31.7% 27.1%
Age at Release  
14-20 46.9% 45.8% 40.4% 35.4%
21-25 43.0% 38.8% 34.8% 29.5%
26-30 40.1% 36.2% 32.5% 27.7%
31-35 36.8% 33.7% 29.6% 25.5%
36 + 25.9% 24.3% 21.8% 18.8%
Prior Florida Prison Commitments  
None 31.4% 27.1% 24.5% 21.2%
One 49.0% 43.7% 37.1% 29.8%
Two 53.1% 49.9% 43.1% 35.0%
Three + 55.9% 55.1% 48.5% 37.7%
Crime Type  
Murder/Manslaughter 13.3% 14.5% 14.3% 14.6%
Sexual Offenses 13.8% 11.7% 12.0% 10.9%
Robbery 39.2% 34.8% 32.3% 27.5%
Other Violent 30.5% 29.6% 25.3% 20.1%
Burglary 45.0% 40.1% 35.3% 30.3%
Theft, Forgery 39.0% 35.7% 33.0% 27.2%
Drugs 40.7% 36.9% 32.4% 28.2%
Weapons 40.5% 39.4% 30.9% 26.8%
Other 26.7% 24.1% 19.4% 17.6%
Sentence Length in Years  
GE 1, LT 3 Years 26.0% 24.0% 21.6% 19.2%
GE 3, LT 5 Years 42.8% 39.7% 34.0% 25.9%
GE 5, LT 10 Years 53.7% 50.7% 44.9% 35.1%
GE 10, LT 15 Years 51.1% 47.1% 49.4% 39.5%
GE 15, LT 20 Years 55.0% 44.7% 52.2% 45.9%
GE 21, LT 30 Years 59.3% 40.8% 50.2% 49.4%
GE 30 Years 54.9% 51.9% 47.5% 57.3%

Goal 2-1: To contribute to recidivism reduction by providing educational and vocational programs, and related services that maximize offenders' functional skills in order to aid in their societal and institutional adjustment.

Goal 2-2: To provide effective basic health care treatment to inmates that reduces the potential spread of disease by unhealthy inmates inside the institution and those inmates scheduled for release.

Goal 2-3: To contribute to recidivism reduction by providing institutional and community based drug treatment programs and other services that aid offenders in the avoidance of substance abuse and their successful reintegration into the community.

Goal 2-4: To provide inmates the opportunity to discover and express their religious faith while incarcerated and to aid them spiritually and practically to turn away from their criminal lifestyles.

Goal 2-5: To place inmates in work assignments that produce substantive results, reduce inmate idleness and provide opportunities to improve working skills.

Goal 2-6: To find and initiate partnerships with public or private agencies/organizations that will further fulfillment of the department's mission.