Prison Industry vs Prisoner Rehabilitation In Florida

Author’s Name Omitted By Request
The State of Florida has continually denied the convict a chance for a better life. They have sold him to labor for private industries and have not utilized the systems in place such as Liberal Arts Education and Vocational Rehabilitation to assist the convict in becoming a functioning member of society.

William A Mcrae, the Head of the Florida State Prison in 1913 stated: “What has the state done for the convict? Nothing. But we have taken the money for his labor and used some for every known purpose except one. . . the betterment of his unfortunate condition.”

Florida State PrisonThe State of Florida has continually denied the convict a chance for rehabilitation. They have sold him to labor for the private industry and have not utilized the systems in place such as Liberal Arts Education, Vocational Rehabilitation, and Moral Intervention to assist the convict in becoming a functional member of society. Florida has firmly stated its goals regarding the convict and his future: “The Florida Department of Corrections. . . declared that its primary mission [is] to protect society by incarcerating convicted offenders [and that its] secondary mission is to offer every offender the education, training, work experience, and counseling necessary to return to society as a productive and law-abiding citizen.”

Over the decades, many men have argued that there are not enough acceptable educations programs in place in the prison systems. Robert C. Rowland (quoting a B. Gottfredson and MCConville study) says that education programs are “typically no longer available or have been curtailed sharply” due to lack of public conviction in the success of these programs. However, 39 studies of education programs conducted by Ted Palmer have found that a 48% positive recidivism rate of success. When Dennis Anderson Thorp (Ph.D., University of Florida) asked prisoners if any of the prison staff can and do interrupt classes or other learning situations, over 60% of the supervisors reported that the situation did exist and 67% of the closed custody institution prisoners indicated that their classes were interrupted often to perform jobs for the institution.

The situation surrounding liberal art education in the Florida State prison systems is a severe lack of funding. Of the $110,064,451 expended in Florida State Correctional Facilities only $7,408,022 of 6.7% was spent on education services and only $2,033,123 or 1.8% was spent on vocational education. Scott Seegott, a former inmate of the Florida State Prison system says of the situation: “When I was in prison many people did not even know how to read or write. I became a tutor to work in the Department of Corrections G.E.D (General Education Diploma) program for inmates under the age of 21. I found that most wanted to learn, but no one spent time with them. Being in prison, they had nothing but time to use.” The inmates for the most part do wish to better themselves through education, but the funding nor the staffing is in place to assist them.

The situation is not totally without hope because we know that prisoners can be positively affected through liberal arts education programs. The state of Florida could be an example among states by providing that education and by proving that it is successful. The financial advantages are clear, the rate at which convicts would return to prison would be considerably lower, and convicts could use their new found education to return to society as functioning, tax-paying citizens.

While Liberal Arts Education is supposed to be the foundation of the rehabilitation process, vocational education should be the core of the process. The goals of vocational education programs in Florida State Prisons are perceived by the Department of Corrections are:

1) To evaluate each inmate from the perspectives of his/her prior work history, occupational interests, occupational aptitudes and employment opportunities in the community; 2) to prepare all inmates who do not posses marketable job skills for entry level employment in an occupation which is personally meaningful and economically rewarding; 3) to upgrade job competencies of the semi-skilled; and 4) to coordinate vocational with the academic and re-socialization needs of the inmates.

Yet is has been shown that the success of vocational programs seem narrow. A large amount of research has shown these programs are unsuccessful at employing prisoners in the real world or at lowering the rate of repeat offenders. The money that has been put into these programs has already been shown to be not enough. The new ideal for “vocational” education is thriving quite well in the state of Florida. This new “program” can be called the “convict lease program”.

The convict lease system is not new to the state of Florida. In the early 1800’s, prison labor was leased to private industry to produce a variety of items. Some of the things produced by prison labor were shoes, clocks, carpets, and hats. This was in accordance with the puritanical and Quaker ideals of the time that believed that hard labor was cleansing to the soul. In leasing prisoners to perform hard manual labor, Florida began a long history of using the convict for monetary purposes that were ostensibly for restitution. A bill passed in 1999 by Governor Jeb Bush claims to allow businesses to pay wages to prisoners as they would to outside labor. This would allow prisoners to become as successful on the “inside” as they could be on the “outside” but with paying for room and board, restitution, taxes, and other miscellaneous fees, prisoners will only be realize about 33% of their pay. These numbers seems especially difficult when the convicts make only 20 to 50 cents and hour. The “on the job training” programs put in place now benefit private industry first, the government second, and the prisoners last. When the convict enters prison he has become a commodity to the state.

The prison system is big business in the state of Florida. That is why there are so many private industries that would like to own a portion. It’s business, so when convicts return to prison repeatedly, they add to the bottom line. In 1981, the governor of the state of Florida passed a law to reorganize prison industries. The Department of Corrections created a non-profit organization called “Prison Enterprises, Education, and Rehabilitation”, or PEER. They “leased” prisoners to private industry. PEER was created to rehabilitate the prisoners by providing “job training” in useful vocations. This program was shortly put out of commission in favor of a new non-profit organization created by Jack Eckerd, the founder of Eckerd Drugstores.

The new program is called Prison Rehabilitative Industries and Diversified Enterprises, or PRIDE. PRIDE now controls Florida’s 51 prison industries. According to the publicly reported financial records of the Corporation for 1998 only $900,000 of the available $4.2 million dollars for program support was paid for PRIDE’s job training and post-release job placement.

Time has shown that leasing convicts to private industry is a way to use prisoners to monetarily help the state, but does not assist the prisoners in a socially useful way. It has not been shown to decrease recidivism rates, or to assist the convicts in job placement after release. Instead, money thrown into these programs is used to benefit private enterprises and not to assist the prisoners in becoming functional members of society upon their release.

The financial advantages of using prisoners to perform labor for the state and for private industry has over-shadowed and harmed the programs in place to assist the prisoners in reentering society. The education process and the vocational rehabilitation process could be used more effectively if the focus were to switch from the financial value of the prisoners and be placed onto potential social values the soon to be ex-prisoners will offer their communities. These methods would allow them to make amends for their crimes against society by becoming functioning tax-paying members of society.

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