Prisons Could Release Several Inmates Early

A number of Florida’s costly inmates may be released from Florida prisons, if a proposed senate bill is passed.

On Dec. 1, 2010, Sen. Christopher Smith (D-Fort Lauderdale), filed Senate Bill 144. The bill would create an Elderly Rehabilitated Inmate Program to provide a means for the release of inmates who are at least 50 years old and who have demonstrated that they have been rehabilitated while incarcerated for at least 25 years.

“Right now we need money in the state,” said Smith. “We noticed that we are spending a whole lot of money keeping people in jail. And we’re spending it on their health care, when they are no threat to society at all.”

According to the bill, the basic requirements for the program would be that the inmate is at least 50 years of age, has served at least 25 consecutive years of imprisonment in a corrections institution or facility and is not serving a death sentence. An inmate who meets the basic eligibility requirements can petition the ERIP one time to participate in the program.

“It’s not automatic,” said Smith. “It would be case-by-case and there would be a board looking at this.”

There are six programs and institutions in Florida that accommodate inmates 50 years old and older.

In the 2009- 2010 fiscal year, the Florida Department of Corrections paid $88 million for community health care services to inmates, which included 17,174 days of scheduled and emergency hospitalizations, 2,937 ambulatory surgeries and 5,435 emergency services, according to reports from the Florida Department of Health.

“The only people with universal health care are prisoners,” said Smith. “They’re the only once with guaranteed health care, cause we have to spend the money to keep them healthy and alive.

According to FDOH, in fiscal year 2009-2010, the total prescription drug cost for inmates was $74,016,821. This includes all regions, stock pharmaceuticals and costs paid to DOH for HIV drugs.

“We can save a lot of money in the corrections budget, theist put that money else were in the budget,” Senator Smith said. “Even if you fill that bed with someone else it’s still cheaper, because you are saving money on the health care. “

There were 102, 232 inmates in prison on June 30, 2010, and of that number 12,580 are expected to die during the course of their imprisonment, according to the FDOH.

“We are talking about the 60-year-old who is on dialysis, who’s barely staying alive, and we’re paying hundreds of thousands of dollars on medical care,” said Smith. “They’re not going to go out and rob again.”

The oldest female inmate was 91 years old and was admitted at the age of 86 to serve a 31-year sentence. According to the FDOH, female inmates over the age of 50 accounted for 12.7 percent of all women in prison population as of June 30, 2010.

As of June 10, 2010 the oldest male inmate was 90 years old and was admitted to FDOC at the age of 82 with a 15-year sentence, according to the FDOH.

The Florida Sheriffs Association opposes the proposed SB 144.

“We don’t think 50-years-old is elderly,” said Frank Messersmith, a lobbyist for the Florida Sheriffs Association. “They already have a conductional medical release program to take care of those situations. They don’t need another program.”

The Florida Legislature created Conditional Medical Release in 1992. That is an optional release, which allows the commission to release inmates on supervision who are “terminally ill” or “permanently incapacitated” and who are not a danger to others, according to the Florida Parole Commission.

“We don’t support releasing inmates,” said Messersmith. “Anyone who has committed a crime and cannot receive probation has done something really bad, and the Florida Sheriffs don’t believe they should be released.”

As of Feb. 22, Senate Bill 144 was presented to the criminal justice committee, and temporarily postponed.