Gov. Rick Scott just distributed a press release noting that Florida’s crime rate is the lowest it has been in 40 years. Scott proudly delivered the news, but it comes at a time when Florida’s prisons are incredibly overcrowded, with 104,000 inmates in the state. If crime is the lowest it has been since the 1960s, then why is Florida housing the nation’s third largest population of prisoners?
The Governor’s press release indicated that violent crimes fell over 10 percent from 2009 to 2010. Violent offenses include assault and battery, robbery and murder. Nonviolent crimes are down, too. Nonviolent offenses fell six percent; those crimes include drug crimes, burglary, larceny, grand theft, prostitution, as well as nonfatal DUI. With all of these statistical improvements, you would think that fewer convictions mean fewer inmates.
However, Florida’s prison population has actually been steadily rising. The Florida Department of Corrections reports that it housed 95,221 inmates during the 07-08 fiscal year. In 08-09, that number ballooned to 99,570. In the most recent reporting year, 09-10, 101,323 people were incarcerated in Florida prisons. Many believe that Florida’s present inmate population is near 104,000.
With the rising prison populations and lowering crime rate, it appears there is one conclusion: the criminal justice system is throwing the book at people accused of crimes – even nonviolent offenders. In fact, between 2004 and 2009, 70 percent of the newly admitted inmates were nonviolent offenders.
When looking at the whole picture, it is clear that those facing charges for crimes – even nonviolent ones such as pharmaceutical drug charges – are commonly facing substantial prison sentences. Now, more than ever, it is crucial for accused people to adopt a strong defense strategy, so they may achieve the best possible outcome and aim to avoid time in prison.
Sources: Orlando Sentinel, April 26, 2011. Florida Dept. of Corrections, www.dc.state.fl.us.