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Prisons can help felons get out and stay out

Published December 20, 2006


TALLAHASSEE - The state should create more faith-based prisons and prepare a better exit strategy for all prisoners if it wants to lower the number of inmates who are released only to commit more crimes, a task force recommended Tuesday.

It said the prison system also should focus more on job training and substance abuse programs, as well as keeping inmates in touch with family and providing individual plans for what they will do once released.

"We all too often put ex-offenders back on the streets with no plan for them to successfully re-enter the community. No homes, no job prospects and no support," said Vicki Lopez Lukis, who chaired the Ex-Offender Task Force appointed by Gov. Jeb Bush. "Even if they want to go straight after they're released, they're sucked back into the crowd that got them into trouble."

That plan should begin the first day felons enter prison, she said.

The state should also expand by six the number of faith-based prisons, the task force said. It now has one each for men and women. There are more than 8,000 inmates on a waiting list to get into the faith-based prisons, said Henree Martin, who served on the task force.

"In order to get into these facilities, you must have a record of very few disciplinary reports, you have to have evidence that you really want to change," said Martin. "When you apply to come into a faith- and character-based facility, you're basically saying, 'I don't want to come back.'"

Many inmates begin GED, reading or training programs in prison but are released or transferred before they complete them. Prisons should either help inmates complete programs, or help schedule their continuation after their release, the task force said.

It said that of the nearly 90,000 inmates in state prisons, 44 percent had been released after serving a previous sentence and then got caught after committing another crime.

[Last modified December 20, 2006, 01:07:20]

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