Time to Give Taxpayers a (Prison) Break

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Daniel Webster was from New England, but one of his most famous quotes merits recognizing him as an honorary Floridian: “Every man’s life, liberty, and property are in danger when the Legislature is in session.”

In special session last week, Florida’s House and Senate negotiators agreed on a $2.3 billion budget for the state’s Department of Corrections (“State law makers pump up prisons budget,” News Service of Florida, June 11). That’s about $115 — or about 14 hours at minimum wage — from every man, woman and child in Florida. That’s more than I pay Netflix for unlimited access to re-runs of “Orange is the New Black.” And all for the ignoble purpose of keeping people in cages.

Except no, not really.

$1.3 million of the new spending is earmarked for “computer software upgrades.” Apparently 9,000 corrections officers don’t have email accounts. Do I hear the world’s smallest violin playing in the distance? To me, the real scandal is that there are more than 9,000 corrections officers in Florida.

Millions — probably tens, maybe even hundreds of millions — more go to politically connected corporations operating “privatized” prisons for profit at taxpayer expense. If you thought you saw their lobbyists skulking around Tallahassee last week, you probably did.

Florida doesn’t need more money for its prisons. It needs fewer prisons, and fewer prisoners. The same is true for every other state. And there are easy ways to get there.

One of the easiest ways would be for those legislators to get together and repeal all the state laws against victimless “crimes” — drugs, gambling, sex work, etc. If they can’t bring themselves to stop trying to run everyone else’s lives, the rest of us should pitch in. Cops should start ignoring those “crimes” in favor of real ones. Prosecutors should stop wasting taxpayer money on prosecuting them. Juries should refuse to convict.

Even where real crimes — like theft, for example — are involved, non-violent offenders shouldn’t receive food, housing and medical care at taxpayer expense.  Nor should surplus corrections personnel. Furlough the latter and let them get real jobs in the productive sector. Put the former on probation or electronically enforced “house arrest” so that they can pay their own bills, as well as restitution to their victims.

It’s time for “corrections” reform, with a view toward ultimately abolishing prisons entirely. And that means less, not more, taxpayer money.

Thomas L. Knapp is director and senior news analyst at the William Lloyd Garrison Center for Libertarian Advocacy Journalism (thegarrisoncenter.org). He lives and works in north central Florida.