Guest column by Lori Costantino-Brown recently published in the Orlando Sentinel.
July 1 marked a new day for public safety in Florida. Beginning on that day, every inmate released from a Florida prison will possess a state-issued driver’s license or state identification card. This will enable them to gain employment, secure housing, fill prescriptions and have an identity upon which to become self-sufficient and rebuild their lives. This is not about coddling convicted felons. At its very core, this is a public safety issue. Felons should be held accountable for their crimes. But consider this: more than 30,000 inmates are released from Florida’s prisons every year. It is far better for released inmates to be successful in rejoining society so that future crimes can be avoided – and future victims are spared. An ex-felon’s path can be changed by helping him or her get an education, learn job skills and ensure they have the tools to be successful. A driver’s license or state identification card is the most important tool.
This legislation was eight years in the making, was sponsored in this year’s legislature by Rep. Dennis Baxley, Rep. Charlie Stone and Sen. David Simmons, and Governor Scott has signed it into law. This common-sense solution for a barrier to success for released inmates will help bring crime down in our communities.
All reentry initiatives directly and positively impact recidivism. Just this week, the Orlando Sentinel reported on a recently released study from the respected Pew Charitable Trust that says “Florida releases more inmates from prison without support than any other state in the nation.” With the risk of re-offending being the highest in the first 6-12 months after release, it just makes sense to do what can feasibly be done to make sure inmates have a successful transition back into society.
Currently, public, private and faith-based providers offer programs for substance abuse, vocational training, educational opportunities, counseling, transition and work release programs. On a more limited basis, many sites offer post-release transitional housing. Once an offender has done his or her time for the convicted offense, these programs will help them stay out of Florida’s prisons, making a dramatic difference in reducing crime through reducing criminals, and making Florida a safe place to live, work and raise a family.
This is what smart justice is all about: holding criminals accountable for their actions while instituting intelligent policies that will produce outcomes taxpayers deserve: saving tax dollars and a low crime rates. As of July 1, we are one step closer.
Lori Costantino-Brown is the President and CEO of Bridges of America, Inc., Florida’s oldest, largest and most successful private provider of reentry programming in the state of Florida. Compared to the national recidivism rate of 30%, the rate for inmates who receive reentry services through Bridges of America is just over 10%.