(UPDATE: This depressing bill was signed into law on Wednesday, June 5, 2013. Thanks to all who made calls and sent emails in opposition)!
YOU and YOU and YOU! Make the call, send an email to Governor Rick Scott. Here’s the breakdown of the bill that passed the House and Senate with wings. This Bill would increase the interval between parole hearings from 2 to 5 years (which is where it currently stands), to 7 years for everyone, not just the most serious offenders. It is understood that those who have committed heinous offenses should be put off for 7 years or more since they stand a snowball’s chance in flaming fire to being paroled anyway. And rightfully so! But this bill makes no distinction between someone that committed a robbery with no weapon and a psychopath that committed a premeditated murder. And this lack of discretion will cost tax payers millions since parole eligible inmates comprise the ‘geriatric’ population who have already spent decades in prison. Parole ended for most offenders in 1983 (the exception being those convicted of a 1st degree capital felony offense or a child sexual battery). Ironically, for the most serious offenders, parole remained in force until 1995. Another Legislative slip?
HB 685 was received in the Governor’s office on Tuesday, May 28, 2013 and is awaiting signature. The opposition to HB 685 is based on the incongruity of statements in the bill analysis. For example, the Bill analysis states that this legislation has an indeterminate, but likely insignificant fiscal impact. That is a gross understatement! It goes on to state that the cost would be approximately $15,500 per year for each extra year of incarceration. That is just not factual! Do the math. We’re talking about inmates who have been in the system 30/40 years or more. They are the antiques, the senior citizens who have the highest, soaring medical costs of all inmates, mounting from $35,000 to $40,000 annually. Do you call that insignificant? The Analysis for Companion Bill SB 742 places a strong emphasis on the fact that it would reduce the level of stress for victims and/or their family members who attend the parole hearings along with providing a potential savings of the incurred expenses. But the Analysis also states that these savings cannot be quantified? Is it not then a moot point? The data shows that most victims and/or their family members do not attend these hearings anyway and many use an optional method to oppose an inmate’s release – letter, phone call, email, recording, video, etc. This Analysis also includes a reduction in the Commission’s workload as a benefit. Should this be the primary purpose of this bill or any bill that has no other real benefit for taxpayers or for FDOC’s bulging budget. This Bill contains no empirical data, no quantifiable data from victims or their families, no numerical data showing the rising costs of medical care for elderly inmates, no charted data showing how many of these inmates will die in prison if they are detained another 7 years. This Bill is a death sentence for those who could otherwise make a successful re-entry, it is death by legislative decision, not by judicial direction.
Look at the Lifers Program at Sumter as example, keeping in mind that all inmates in Lifers Programs were directly referred by the Parole Commission. This Program is comprised of 84 inmates aged 45–75. The average age is 58 and the average medical status is 2 (on a scale of 1-3) . Most of the Lifers are first time offenders and have been imprisoned since adolescence, 95% of them are on some form of medication. If an inmate is diabetic, costs increase by $7,600, the insulin pump itself can cost another $20,000. Consider the Corrections Transition Program (Lifers Program) at Everglades. The oldest inmate is 83, the youngest is 41 with the average age being 61. This prison boasts the longest serving inmate who has spent 48 years on the inside. The stats as of March 2013 show that 296 men have paroled with a 90.5% success rate. Of the remaining 9.5%, 26 had technical/minor violations, 34 did not complete the program for various reasons, and 2 had a criminal violation. Seventeen have died while on parole and eleven have died while still incarcerated. So why would any thinking person want to keep inmates, who are successfully completing these programs, in prison an additional 7 years after they’ve served 3 or 4 decades already. The only rational reason to retain any inmate would be for safety reasons. However, the data shows that recidivism among the geriatric population is almost non-existent.
Reviewing cases in a two or five year period allows the Commissioners to follow the progress of inmates they’ve referred to the Lifer’s programs. But waiting 7 more years to follow up on a case eliminates continuity. There may well be new faces on the Parole Board by then, Commissioners who are not at all familiar with the inmate that has had two or more hearings already, they won’t know how far that inmate has come and will be hard pressed to favor release. This Bill serves only to stretch out parole hearings until inmates who have done well and changed their lives age out and die off with no hope of re-entry and re-unification. And sadly, many of us won’t even care but for those who do, now is the time to speak up. If we remain silent, what will prevent the hearing intervals from being upped next Legislative Session to ten years and beyond. Even if there remains only a handful of eligible, reformed inmates, we must take a stand against the perpetuation of harsh, apathetic legislation for which Florida is infamous.
If not vetoed, House Bill 685 will become effective July 1, 2013. Fortunately, we have a Governor that has stated he believes in second chances. So call the Governor’s VETO LINE right now. You’re on the phone anyway, make the call – 877-274-0951 or send an email to http://www.flgov.com/contact-gov-scott/email-the-governor/ and request the immediate veto of HB 685.