Commentary: Different approach to prison overcrowding needed

The Florida Legislature passed a "just in case" bill that its author, Sen. Victor Crist, R-Tampa, calls a "passive safety net," not a mandate. But the philosophy behind SB 1722, which becomes law July 1, is based on regressive thinking.

It would allow the corrections department to ship inmates to other states in case prison overcrowding forces early releases here.

This is a patchwork solution that misses the point. Florida should be fighting crime at the front end – not shipping prisoners to be warehoused out of state.

To reduce prison beds the state has to adequately fund programs to reduce school drop-out rates and increase job-training and life-skills classes. It means counseling and access to needed services for troubled families with teens who have strayed but not fallen off the deep end yet.

It also means drug rehabilitation programs, well-resourced drug courts and mental-health counseling for teenagers. In the long run these preventive measures would save the state millions of dollars it now spends housing prisoners who could be contributing members of society.

The irony is that, until budget deficits hit this year, Florida's been on a prison-building spree even as it has cut back on programs to reduce recidivism. The 2010 state budget is the first in a long while with no money set aside for new prison construction.

To read the complete editorial, visit The Miami Herald.