Substance abuse programs in Florida are at risk due to a $3.1 billion deficit in the state’s budget

More than 65 percent of Florida’s budget goes to corrections, education and health. Some of the most vital programs are being let go as the state faces a tough economic climate.

Representative Daryl Rouson said, “The first places we cut are corrections, education and health because that’s where we spend the most.”

The Senate has asked all state departments to make a 15 percent budget reduction in order to compensate for its massive deficit.

Walter McNeil, secretary of the Florida Department of Corrections, said cutbacks will be detrimental to his department. He surprised the members of the state Senate Criminal and Civil Justice Appropriations Committee when he reported that large cuts would decrease the department’s revenue by $342 million.

Rouson said, “There is no money so what do we do… politics is about allocating scarce resources for the greater good while there are competing interests.”

McNeil said, “Cuts that big can’t be achieved without cutting employees or closing prisons.” He proposed a plan that would save $25 million by reducing education and substance abuse programs in prison.

In order to keep up with the conviction rate, Florida must build a new prison every year at $11 million each for the next decade while the rate of recidivism, the tendency to relapse into a previous condition or mode of behavior, is rapidly increasing.

The estimated to cost to house a single inmate is $30-40,000.

Florida has one of the highest prison return rates; approximately one in three people released will be re-incarcerated within the first three years of his or her release.

The Florida Partners in Crisis said the best way to save taxpayer dollars while preserving public safety is to implement more community-based mental health and substance abuse programs.

Diversion programs allow those who have substance abuse issues to manage their habits and stay in recovery.

According to the Florida Partners in Crisis, based on an average stay of 22 months, the cost of a community drug treatment bed is $10,920, and the cost for a prison bed is $36,960 for the same period. After 36 months of treatment, 93 percent of offenders who completed community drug treatment had not been recommitted to prison.

Rouson said, “We’re not trying to rehabilitate anymore,” Rouson said, “…precedent dictates that we take another look at our system.”

With 52 prisons in Florida, legislators have postponed plans for new construction.

Currently, Florida meets 42 percent of the need for adult mental health services and seven percent of the need for substance abuse services.

Meanwhile, the number of Floridians with mental illnesses who are in prison has increased 36 percent in the past five year, according to the Florida Partners in Crisis.

Rouson said, “It’s time to build the heart and mind [of an offender] so they don’t return to prison.”