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

Florida Department of Corrections
Michael D. Crews, Secretary

Executive Summary

Based on the results of this survey, many Floridians and news media representatives have a limited understanding of numerous issues pertaining to the Florida Department of Corrections (DC). Some examples include overcrowding, the percentage of their sentence that inmates serve, gaintime, early release, and the roles of correctional officers and correctional probation officers. When you consider that the mission of the department is public safety, it is essential that the public understand how the mission is being implemented. To feel safe, the public must believe that the DC is doing its job properly, and they must understand what that job entails. On the other hand, most DC staff have a fairly good understanding of a wide range of DC issues, regardless of whether they work in a prison, community corrections, regional or central office.

Time Served and Overcrowding

Of those surveyed:

  • 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.
  • DC Staff: Only 14.2% of DC staff think overcrowding is the DC's most pressing issue, though 41.9% said they think Florida needs more state prisons. Many staffers also cited the lack of education and other programs for inmates and a lack of good employees as pressing issues.
    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.
  • DC Staff: Though considerably less than the others, a full 56.7% of staff also 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: 81.6% said that inmates convicted today will serve less than half of their sentences.
  • News Media: 61.1% said that inmates convicted today will serve less than half of their sentences.
  • DC Staff: Only 29.9% of staff think inmates will serve less than half their sentences. Most (49.5%) know that inmates serve more than 75% of their sentences.
    In reality, inmates convicted today must serve at least 85% of their sentences, and inmates released in December 1997 served an average of 69.7% of their sentences.

  • General Public: 64.0% said the percentage of sentence served today is lower than it was five years ago.
  • News Media: Only 46.4% said the percentage of sentence served today is lower than it was five years ago.
  • DC Staff: Only 18.6% of staff said the percentage of sentence served today is lower than it was five years ago. Most (66.7%) said it is higher than it was five years ago, as opposed to "about the same" (14.7%).
    Actually, sentences served have more than doubled in that time — from 34% in June 1992 to 71.1% in June 1997, the month the media survey was conducted. The percentage of sentence served when the general public survey was conducted, in March 1997, was 63.9%. It was 73.0% the month the DC staff survey was conducted (September 1997).

  • General Public: Almost half (49.5%) think an inmate sentenced to life today will not actually serve a life sentence.
  • News Media: More than half (54.9%) think an inmate sentenced to life today will not actually serve a life sentence.
  • DC Staff: Only 39.1% of staff think a life sentence is not truly a life sentence.
    In fact, all inmates sentenced to life today will serve a life sentence in prison.

  • General Public: 61.0% think incarcerating an inmate for one year cost more than $20,000.
  • News Media: 70.7% think incarcerating an inmate for one year cost more than $20,000.
  • DC Staff: 56.2% think incarcerating an inmate for one year cost more than $20,000.
    In FY 1996-97, it cost $17,749 to incarcerate an inmate in a major institution. 20.4% of the general public, 18.5% of the news media, and one-fourth (25.8%) of DC staff chose the correct response to this question ($15,000 to $20,000).

Inmate Work and Unstructured Time

Some of the following activities, which are often singled out in "tough on crime" rhetoric, yielded surprising responses. For example, air-conditioning for inmates is not as distasteful to the public as some may believe, and even less distasteful to the media. Almost two out of three DC staffers (64.8%) disapproved of air-conditioning for inmates, even though some of those staff members would benefit from it themselves. And while the disapproval percentages for television and weightlifting privileges were barely more than half the sample for the general public, the news media viewed these activities much more favorably. DC staff split on these issues, with most (80.3%) approving of television, but only half (50.6%) approving of weights for inmates.

Of those surveyed:

  • General Public: 56.2% think inmates work and 95.9% approve, even when the work is unpaid.
  • News Media: 51.0% think inmates work and 96.3% approve, even when the work is unpaid.
  • DC Staff: Most (80.6%) of DC staff think inmates work and 98.4% approve, even when the work is unpaid.
    Inmates do work, and except for those in a prison industry program (Prison Rehabilitative Industries and Diversified Enterprises, PRIDE) and those on work release, they do not get paid. Inmates in the DC's Community Work Squad Program saved Florida taxpayers $23.5 million in FY 96-97 through their work in cities, counties, municipalities, non-profit groups, the Department of Transportation and the Division of Forestry. Inmates also work inside the prison doing laundry, cooking, cleaning and repairing prisons.

  • General Public: 50.1% think the DC has chain gangs and 73.3% approve
  • News Media: 51.5% think the DC has chain gangs and 74.7% approve.
  • DC Staff: 50.8% think the DC has chain gangs and 79.5% approve.
    The DC does have chain gangs. The start-up cost for one chain gang is $152,717, with recurring costs in excess of $100,000 per year. Current DC squads work outside the secure perimeter of the institution on institutional property under the armed supervision of Correctional Officers. The inmates are shackled individually at the ankles and are not connected to each other in any manner for reasons of security and safety. When working inmates inside the secure perimeter of an institution, as opposed to outside in chain gangs, the DC can reduce staff involved, increase the number of inmates supervised and recurring costs are less than $40,000 per year.

  • General Public: 93.8% think inmates have access to television and 49.4% approve.
  • News Media: 95.1% think inmates have access to television and 69.5% approve.
  • DC Staff: 94.7% think inmates have access to television and 80.3% approve.
    Inmates have only limited access to television. No new television sets are purchased with taxpayers dollars. When one officer was asked why he approved of television for inmates, he said "if an inmate's watching television, he's not fighting with other inmates or staff."

  • General Public: 93.2% think inmates have access to weightlifting equipment and 48.8% approve.
  • News Media: 91.6% think inmates have access to weightlifting equipment and 64.7% approve.
  • DC Staff: 88.2% think inmates have access to weightlifting equipment and 50.6% approve.
    Inmates do have access to weightlifting equipment, but only after they have completed classroom and work assignments and if they have been free of disciplinary measures for 120 days.

  • General Public: 87.7% think inmates are housed in air-conditioned prisons and 66.9% approve of air-conditioning for inmates.
  • News Media: 70.3% think inmates are housed in air-conditioned prisons and 74.6% approve.
  • DC Staff: Only 26.5% think inmates are housed in air-conditioned prisons and only 35.2% approve.
    The vast majority of inmates do not have air-conditioning in their housing areas or elsewhere on the compound. In fact, only seven of the DC's 55 major institutions have air-conditioning, excluding five privately run facilities, which are not built or managed by the DC.

Programs and Healthcare

Of those surveyed:

  • General Public: 93.6% are correct in believing that inmates have access to educational programs and 91.4% approve.
  • News Media: 92.0% are correct in believing that inmates have access to educational programs and 95.5% approve.
  • DC Staff: 96.7% are correct in believing that inmates have access to educational programs and 96.4% approve.
    Inmates do have access to educational programs, and inmates who complete classes appear to be more likely to get jobs upon release. For inmates released in FY 93-94, those who had completed an academic or vocational course were 11% more likely to be employed during the last calendar quarter of 1994 than the remaining inmates who were released.

  • General Public: 87.4% are correct in believing inmates have access to drug and alcohol abuse rehabilitation programs, and 89.2% approve.
  • News Media: 88.0% are correct in believing inmates have access to drug and alcohol abuse rehabilitation programs, and 95.1% approve.
  • DC Staff: 97.8% are correct in believing inmates have access to drug and alcohol abuse rehabilitation programs, and 97.8% approve.

  • General Public: 64.2% believe inmates have "about the right amount" of healthcare.
  • News Media: 69.0% believe inmates have "about the right amount" of healthcare.
  • DC Staff: 59.8% believe inmates have "about the right amount" of healthcare.

Correctional Officers and Correctional Probation Officers

Probably the most misunderstood, yet essential, part of the Florida DC is the role of its correctional officers (CO's) and Correctional Probation Officers (CPO's). Judging from survey responses, some people are unaware that CO's are not armed and make less money than police officers; or that probation officers collect millions of dollars in supervision fees, victim restitution and court costs from their charges. When asked for one or two words to describe CO's to help determine the respondent's image of them, the answers were mostly positive and remarkably similar in all three surveys.

Correctional Officers

Of those surveyed:

  • General Public: The ten most common words used by respondents to describe CO's are: (in rank order of most to least frequent) tough, brave, underpaid, dedicated, strong, mean, big, honest, patient, fair.
  • News Media: The ten most common words used by respondents to describe CO's are: (in rank order of most to least frequent) tough, brave, dedicated, stressed, underpaid, undereducated, guard, crazy, employed, frustrated (last three tied).
  • DC Staff: The ten most common words used by DC staff to describe CO's are: (most to least frequent) dedicated, professional, underpaid, brave, hardworking, overworked, stressed, good, courageous, fair, security (last three tied).

  • General Public: 68.0% said they think CO's who work inside the prison are armed.
  • News Media: 50.7% said they think CO's who work inside the prison are armed.
  • DC Staff: A mere 7.5% of staff said they think CO's who work inside the prison are armed.
    Correctional Officers who work inside the prison are not armed.

  • General Public: 53.8% of respondents said entry level CO's and police officers should make the same amount of money.
  • News Media: 58.3% of respondents said entry level CO's and police officers should make the same amount of money.
  • DC Staff: 73.5% of staff respondents said entry level CO's and police officers should make the same amount of money.
    Entry-level COs made $18,923 a year in 1997, which is $4,072 less than the average entry-level police officer's salary.

  • General Public: Of the 46.2% who think one should make more than the other, 83.6% said it should be police officers because their job is more dangerous (69.3%).
  • News Media: Of the 41.7% who think one should make more than the other, 88.2% said it should be police officers because their job is more dangerous (58.8%).
  • DC Staff: Of the 26.5% who think one should make more than the other, 60.6% or 106 DC staff members said it should be police officers because their job is more dangerous (63.5%).

Correctional Probation Officers

Of those surveyed:

  • General Public: 69.2% said Correctional Probation Officers (CPO's) do not collect court fines and costs.
  • News Media: 66.7% said Correctional Probation Officers (CPO's) do not collect court fines and costs.
  • DC Staff: 50.6% said Correctional Probation Officers (CPO's) do not collect court fines and costs.
    In fact, CPO's collect court fines and costs from the offenders being supervised. In FY 1996-97, CPO's collected more than $11.1 million in court fines and costs from offenders on community supervision.

  • General Public: 51.5% said CPO's collect cost of supervision fees from individuals on community supervision.
  • News Media: 52.4% said CPO's collect cost of supervision fees from individuals on community supervision.
  • DC Staff: 67.1% said CPO's collect cost of supervision fees from individuals on community supervision.
    They are correct. In FY 1996-97, CPO's collected more than $22.4 million in cost of supervision fees from offenders on community supervision.

  • General Public: 61.4% do not think CPO's collect victim restitution from offenders.
  • News Media: 69.7% do not think CPO's collect victim restitution from offenders.
  • DC Staff: 61.2% do not think CPO's collect victim restitution from offenders.
    In fact, CPO's do collect victim restitution, and they collected more than $25.1 million for victims of crime in Florida in FY 1996-97.

Evaluation

Overall, more than half of the Floridians and news media respondents surveyed believe the DC is doing a fair job. Most DC staff (53.7%) thinks the DC is going a good job. The public thinks the DC is doing a good job of preventing escapes, a fair job of rehabilitating criminals, and a poor job of making criminals pay back their victims. The media thinks the DC is doing a good job of preventing escapes, a poor job of rehabilitating inmates and making inmates pay back their victims, and a fair job of providing treatment to help prevent substance abuse upon release. Most DC staff think the Department of Corrections is doing an excellent job of preventing escapes, a fair job of rehabilitating criminals, a poor job of making inmates repay their victims, and a fair job of providing treatment to help prevent substance abuse upon release.

Of those surveyed:

  • 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.
  • DC Staff: 91.2% said the DC is doing an excellent or good job of preventing escapes.
    In fact, escapes are at their lowest level in more than eleven 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.

  • General Public: Respondents said the DC is doing a fair job of rehabilitating criminals (43.2%), but almost as many (42.3%) said the DC was doing a poor job in this respect.
  • News Media: Respondents said the DC is doing a poor job of rehabilitating criminals (49.9%), but almost as many (42.2%) said the DC was doing a fair job in this respect.
  • DC Staff: Respondents said the DC is doing a fair job of rehabilitating criminals (40.7%), with another (28.4%) saying the DC was doing a good job in this respect.
    If the measure of rehabilitation is a lower recidivism rate, then rehabilitation is already heading in the right direction. A February 1997 recidivism study conducted by the DC's Bureau of Research and Data Analysis calculated the recidivism rate at 18%, which dropped from 39.7% from a previous similar study. Recidivism rates for those who completed their GED or vocational certificates are even lower: 17.2%.

  • General Public: 72.6% said the DC is doing a poor job of making criminals repay their victims.
  • News Media: 64.3% said the DC is doing a poor job of making criminals repay their victims.
  • DC Staff: 40.3% said the DC is doing a poor job of making criminals repay their victims, but almost as many (31.5%) said the DC is doing a fair job in this respect.
    Though more than 60% of both the general public and news media who responded did not know that CPO's collect victim restitution, they nevertheless feel the DC is doing a poor job in this respect. As mentioned before, CPO's collected more than $25 million in victim restitution in FY 1996-97.

  • General Public: 39.5% said the DC is doing a fair job of providing drug and alcohol treatment to inmates while in prison to prevent future substance abuse.
  • News Media: 49.8% said the DC is doing a fair job of providing drug and alcohol treatment to inmates while in prison to prevent future substance abuse.
  • DC Staff: 44.8% said the DC is doing a good job and 29.0% said a fair job of providing drug and alcohol treatment to inmates while in prison to prevent future substance abuse.
    In fact, the recidivism rate for those who completed drug treatment is lower than the recidivism rate of the rest of the inmate population. For those who completed in-depth Substance Abuse Treatment Programs, the recidivism rate is 15.5%, compared to an overall recidivism rate of 18.1%.

  • 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.
  • DC Staff: More than three out of four DC staff give the DC an excellent or good overall job rating (76.4%). 29.0% said the DC is doing a fair job overall.
    Less than one in four general public respondent and only 11.2% of news media respondents and 8.5% of DC staff think the DC is doing a poor job of running the state prison system