TAMPA, Florida -- With the state on the verge of cutting mental health, substance abuse, and re-entry programs for felons finishing out prison terms, Florida Attorney General Pam Bondi warned the cuts could have serious implications on the community.
"We have to have treatment in our facilities, it's ridiculous not to," Bondi said Tuesday afternoon. "Otherwise it becomes a revolving door...(felons) get out of prison and we want them to be rehabilitated, yet they don't know how to go down and get a driver's license.
"Where are they going to live? How are they going to find a job?"
Bondi, a former Hillsborough County prosecutor, was responding to a 10News question about impending cuts at the Department of Corrections (DOC), which didn't receive enough funding from the state this year to cover growing costs of operating prisons and felony probation.
As a result, DOC Secretary Julie Jones said the agency must slash funding to a number of re-entry programs, aimed at preventing felons from re-offending. That could affect hundreds -- or thousands -- of inmates slated to finish prison sentences this year with GED, life/job skill and substance abuse programs.
While Gov. Rick Scott points the finger at the legislature for failing to fully fund his recommended budget this year, it does not appear the governor will use his executive power to block the new cuts, nor will he call the legislature into a special session to save the programs.
10Investigates has reported for years about chronic DOC under-funding, which has led to problems in prison, enormous turnover of prison and probation officers, and lighter supervision of felons in the community. While the state's budget has grown 39% since Scott took office, the DOC's budget has grown just 5%.
Inflation alone has risen 14 percent since 2011, while the state's cost for proper medical care inside its prisons has also grown significantly.
But the most recent DOC cuts, which include drug programs in the middle of an opioid crisis, are some of the most difficult to accept for some observers.
"We do not have enough drug treatment in our prisons," Bondi continued. "If you're an addict, you're going to violate...(as a prosecutor), I saw a World Series baseball player trade his World Series ring for a piece of crack.
"That's when I learned the power of addiction."
Neither House Speaker Richard Corcoran nor Senate President Joe Negron have returned multiple requests for interview over the past week.
McKinley Lewis, a spokesperson for Governor Scott, did not address specifics about the cuts or the potential to block them, but added "Secretary Jones is working tirelessly to mitigate the impacts of these cuts while ensuring that Department can continue in its constitutional responsibility to provide healthcare to inmates.”
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