Prisons: The way to lock up more Blacks

Roger Caldwell | 11/7/2013, 9 a.m.
Incarceration is big business in Florida and after closing several prisons in 2012, the Department of Corrections wants some of ...

Incarceration is big business in Florida and after closing several prisons in 2012, the Department of Corrections wants some of them re-opened. Blacks make up 17 percent of the population in Florida, but they make up 50 percent of the prison population. Based on the projection for next year, it is expected that the prison population will increase by 3 percent. It is my belief that these prisons are being re-opened to accommodate more Black and Hispanic prisoners. There are now 101,000 prisoners in the system and 41,000 of these prisoners have long sentences because of the maximum sentencing guidelines. The system is overcrowded and it is costing the taxpayers $2.4 billion.

All over the country states are working to decrease and lower their prison population, but Governor Scott is doing the opposite. In 2011, the Clemency Board, consisting of Governor Scott, Pam Bondi, Jeff Atwater and Adam Putnam decided to make it harder for released prisoners to get their civil rights restored. It now takes almost 10 years for ex-prisoners to get their rights restored, so they can vote, run for office and serve on a jury.

Florida ranks high on the list of states that disenfranchise ex-prisoners and it is considered an international violation under the U.N. Human Rights Committee. There are 1.5 million Floridians who are disenfranchised and Blacks are disproportionately impacted. Joyce Henry, regional director of Florida ACLU says, “Twenty-three percent of Blacks in Florida of voting age are disenfranchised. Nearly one in four has lost the right to vote.”

Florida is one of the most restrictive states in the country and the judicial system is under fire on how it has handled the George Zimmerman trial. Many believe the verdict was unfair and if you are Black, your rights will be violated in Florida. Other examples of injustice include Marissa Alexander and Darius Kimbrough.

The entire justice system in Florida is broken, dysfunctional and corrupt. There are too many nonviolent drug offenders in prison, costing the taxpayers $18,000 a year to house them. The criminal sentencing must be changed and there is a need for a conversation on who should be put in prisons.

A large majority of Blacks are in jail as a result of nonviolent drug convictions. One way Florida could an save money would be by using diversion and intervention programs with families and half-way houses. But instead of developing a program connecting prisoners to a skill or a job, our governor will probably open up more prisons and increase the Department of Corrections’ budget. Felons will continue to be disenfranchised and our governor will brag that he is tough on crime. But being tough on crime does not save taxpayers money, improve the disenfranchisement of Florida prisoners or stop our state from being a violator of human rights.

Roger Caldwell is the CEO of On Point Media Group in Orlando.