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

Florida Department of Corrections
Michael D. Crews, Secretary

Time Served and Overcrowding

The department wanted to determine the respondents' levels of understanding of issues involving prison overcrowding, actual prison time served, judicial sentencing practices, and some basic facts about the inmate population. To do so, the following questions were asked.

Over the last ten years, do you think the number of people in Florida's state prison system has decreased, stayed about the same, or increased?
Prison Population General Public News Media DC Staff
Number Percent Number Percent Number Percent
Increased74692.4%30391.0%592 88.0%
Decreased384.7%113.3%38 5.6%
About The Same242.9%195.7%43 6.4%
Total Cases 808 100.0% 333 100.0% 673 100.0%
Cases Not Applicable = 194/33/26

The majority of the respondents 92.4%, 91.0%, and 88.0% are correct in their opinion that Florida's prison population had increased over the past ten years. On June 30, 1987, the prison population was 32,764. Ten years later on June 30, 1996, when the media survey was conducted, the prison population had almost doubled to 64,333. On March 31, 1997, the month the general public survey was conducted, the prison population was 63,957 and on September 30, 1997, the month of the DC staff survey, it was 65,122.

What do you think the percent of increase has been in the last ten years?
Prison Population Increase General Public News Media DC Staff
Number Percent Number Percent Number Percent
0 to 25%25050.3%10754.6%192 43.9%
26 to 50%17735.7%6533.2%170 38.9%
51 to 75%163.1%73.6%23 5.3%
75 to 100%377.4%105.1%32 7.3%
101% or Higher173.4%73.6%20 4.6%
Average Percent Increase 41.0% 37.0% 44%
Total Cases 497 100.0% 196 100.0% 437 100.0%
Cases Not Applicable = 505/170/262

Of the respondents who think the number of inmates in prison has increased over the last ten years, the average percentage increase was estimated at 41% by the general public, 37% by the news media, and 44% by DC staff. In reality, the prison population has increased 96% over the last ten years. Of those who think the population has increased, 86.0% of the general public, 87.8% of the news media, and 82.8% of staff said it had done so by 50% or less. Of the few respondents (2.9%/3.3%/5.6%) who think the prison population had decreased over the last 10 years, the average percentage of decrease estimated was 17% by the general public, 10.7% by the news media and 14.4% by staff.

Do you think inmates are released from prison early because of overcrowding?
Early Release? General Public News Media DC Staff
Number Percent Number Percent Number Percent
Yes83395.5%31187.6%385 56.7%
No394.5%4412.4%294 43.3%
Total Cases 872 100.0% 355 100.0% 679 100.0%
Cases Not Applicable = 130/11/20

Early Release Eliminated

The public, news media and some staff are incorrect in their perception that inmates are released from prison early because of overcrowding. Of the respondents surveyed, 95.5% of the public, 87.6% of the news media and 56.7% of staff said inmates are released early due to overcrowding, when in reality early release was eliminated in December 1994. Early release due to prison overcrowding began in February 1987 (to June 1988) in the form of Administrative Gain Time, evolving into Provisional Release Credits (July 1988-January 1991) and eventually Control Release (November 1990-December 1994). Control Release, the last early release mechanism tied to prison overcrowding, was eliminated in December 1994.

Basic Gain Time Eliminated

Basic Gain time was eliminated for any offender committing a crime on or after January 1, 1994. Basic Gain Time (unearned gain time) reduced inmates sentences by one-third upon entering the prison system. Today, some inmates are eligible for up to 25 days a month off their sentences, but they must earn the days off monthly by working or attending classes, and maintaining good behavior.

Inmates Today Serve 85% of Sentences

Inmates who committed their crimes on or after October 1, 1995 must serve at least 85% of their sentences. These inmates can earn up to 10 days per month served of gain time; however, their sentence will not be reduced to less than 85%.

Does Florida need more state prisons?
More Prison Beds? General Public News Media DC Staff
Number Percent Number Percent Number Percent
Yes54568.5%17150.3%278 41.9%
No25131.5%16949.7%385 58.1%
Total Cases 796 100.0% 340 100.0% 663 100.0%
Cases Not Applicable = 206/26/36

The majority of the public and news media and some (41.9%) staff are incorrect in believing Florida needs more state prisons. Although 68.5% of the public and 50.3% of the media surveyed think more prison beds are needed, in reality the DC currently has a sufficient number of beds to manage the system.

Are former inmates who have been released from prison less likely, about the same, or more likely to commit crimes than before they served their time?
Inmates Commit More Crime? General Public News Media DC Staff
Number Percent Number Percent Number Percent
More Likely48158.0%18354.1%319 48.0%
About The Same24930.0%10932.2%220 33.1%
Less Likely607.2%247.1%76 11.4%
Depends/Specify404.8%226.5%49 7.4%
Total Cases 830 100.0% 338 100.0% 664 100.0%
Cases Not Applicable = 172/28/35

Most of the general public surveyed (58.0%) think inmates released from prison are more likely to commit crimes again, and about half as many (30.0%) think they are as likely to commit another crime. Only 7.2% of the respondents think inmates are less likely to commit crimes after prison release than before incarceration. Of those who said it "depends," their comments indicate that it depends on "the individual," "the crime previously committed," "how long they were in prison," and "what kind of training or education they received in prison."

Most of the news media surveyed (54.1%) think inmates released from prison are more likely to commit crimes again and another (32.2%) think they are as likely to commit another crime. Only 6.5% of the respondents think inmates are less likely to commit crimes after prison release than before incarceration. Of those who said it "depends," their comments indicate that it depends on "the severity of the crime," "the offense," "the individual," and "the type of rehabilitation they got in jail."

Many staff members also said inmates are more likely to recommit after being incarcerated (48.0%), but 11.4% said they are less likely to do so. Some said it depends on "whether they have alternatives to crime, like a job," "family support," "the person," "type of crime committed." One said "burglars are more likely to come back, murderers and rapists less likely." Another said "old parolees are less likely to reoffend and people with shorter sentences tend to repeat more." Several said it depends on "education" and "what type environment they go back to."

While it is impossible to predict the future regarding criminal conduct, the DC's Bureau of Research and Data Analysis studied inmates who were released from prison to see whether they had committed a new crime in the two years following release. For this study, the recidivism rate was defined as a return to prison or a sentence to community supervision for a new crime occurring within 24 months of the offender's date of release from prison. Results indicate that the recidivism rate for inmates released in fiscal year 1993-94, or the percentage of inmates who committed a crime within two years of release (by 1995-96) was 18%. That figure dropped from 39.7% from the DC's previous recidivism study, which studied inmates released in fiscal year 1988-89 who committed a crime and returned to prison or community supervision within two years of release.

What percentage of their sentence do you think the typical criminal, convicted today, serves in prison?
Percentage of Sentence Served General Public News Media DC Staff
Number Percent Number Percent Number Percent
0 to 25%19926.5%5717.3%31 4.8%
26 to 50%41355.1%14443.8%161 25.1%
51 to 75%8311.1%6319.1%132 20.6%
76 to 100%557.3%6519.8%318 49.5%
Average Percent 40% 50% 67%
Total Cases 750 100.0% 329 100.0% 642 100.0%
Cases Not Applicable = 252/37/57

Virtually all of the general public respondents (92.7%) and most (80.2%) of the news media respondents believe inmates serve significantly less of their sentences than they actually do. On average, general public respondents said criminals will serve 40% of their sentences and news media respondents said criminals will serve 50% of their sentences, and the majority of both (81.6% and 61.1%) said inmates will serve 50% or less. Half (49.5%) of DC staff knew that inmates serve more than 75% of their sentences. The fact is, most criminals convicted today (those committing crimes on or after October 1, 1995) will serve a minimum of 85% of their sentence in prison. Inmates released from prison in March 1997 served an average of 63.9% of their sentences; those released in June 1997 served an average of 71.1% of their sentences; and those released in September 1997 served an average of 73.0%. These months correspond to the dates of the three surveys.

Do you think the percentage of the sentence actually served today is higher, about the same, or lower than it was five years ago?
Change in Percent General Public News Media DC Staff
Number Percent Number Percent Number Percent
Lower51764.0%16046.4%125 18.6%
About the Same16320.2%6518.8%99 14.7%
Higher12815.8%12034.8%449 66.7%
Total Cases 808 100.0% 345 100.0% 673 100.0%
Cases Not Applicable = 194/21/26

Most Floridians are misinformed about this fact: The average percentage of prison sentences served for released inmates has not only increased, but has more than doubled over the past five years. Of those surveyed, 64.0% of the general public believe the average percentage of sentences served by inmates is lower today than it was five years ago. The news media and DC staff are better informed on this subject, with only 46.4% of the news media and 18.6% of staff believing the average percentage of sentence served is lower today than it was five years ago.

In reality, inmates released in June 1992 served an average of 34% of their sentences, and in June 1997 they served an average of 71.1% of their sentences, as indicated in the previous question.

If an inmate is given a life sentence today, according to law, is he or she supposed to serve a life term?
Life Sentence = Life Term? General Public News Media DC Staff
Number Percent Number Percent Number Percent
Yes40650.5%14645.1%366 60.9%
No39849.5%17854.9%235 39.1%
Total Cases 804 100.0% 324 100.0% 601 100.0%
Cases Not Applicable = 198/42/98

One-half of Floridians (50.5%), less than half (45.1%) of the news media, and most (60.9%) of staff are aware that an inmate sentenced to life in prison today is not eligible for any type of prison release, reduction in sentence, or parole. An inmate sentenced to life today will serve his or her life in prison.

Now, I am going to read you a list, please stop me when I get to the range you think is the approximate cost to keep an inmate in state prison for one year.

Interviewer - you may need to remind the respondent that we are only talking about state prisons.

Annual Prison Cost General Public News Media DC Staff
Number Percent Number Percent Number Percent
Less Than $10,000354.3%61.7%17 3.9%
$10,000 - $15,00011314.0%329.1%62 14.2%
$15,001 - $20,00016420.4%6518.5%113 25.8%
$20,001 - $25,00016019.9%8323.6%101 23.1%
$25,001 - $30,00013817.1%6217.7%75 17.1%
$30,001 - $35,000668.1%4111.7%29 6.6%
Greater Than $35,00012916.0%6217.7%41 9.4%
Total Cases 753 100.0% 351 100.0% 438* 100.0%
Cases Not Applicable = 249/15/261
* Correctional officer/security staff was not asked this question.

The majority of the public, press and staff interviewed think the cost to incarcerate an inmate is higher than it actually is today. Sixty-one percent of the pubic, 70.7% of the press, and 56.2% of staff surveyed thought incarcerating an inmate for a year cost $20,000 or more, when in reality it cost $17,476 in FY 1996-97. Only one in five (20.4%) of the public and less than that (18.5%) of the press, but more than one fourth (25.8%) of staff were correct when choosing the range of $15,000-$20,000 to keep an inmate in prison for one year. It costs the state of Florida $17,749 per year to incarcerate an inmate in major institutions (prisons) only. For all state facilities, which includes major prisons, community correctional centers, work camps, road prisons, etc., the figure drops to $17,476 per year. These figures include the cost of correctional officers, laundry, food, security, education, medical, inmate programs, insurance, physical plant operations and administration.

Which group do you think makes up the majority of the population in state prisons? Would you say it is whites, blacks, or Hispanics?
Majority Racial Group General Public News Media DC Staff
Number Percent Number Percent Number Percent
Blacks51167.9%21865.1%556 84.9%
Whites7710.2%8726.0%41 6.3%
Equally Split7710.2%92.7%36 5.5%
Blacks & Hispanics526.9%123.6%19 2.9%
Hispanics364.8%92.7%3 0.5%
Total Cases 753 100.0% 335 100.0% 655 100.0%
Cases Not Applicable = 249/31/44

Most respondents (67.9%/65.1%/84.9%) know that blacks make up the majority of the prison population. On June 30, 1997, 55.4% of the prison population was black, compared to 56.1% the previous year.