Fla. prison population tops 100,000 for 1st time

Dec 19th, 2008 | MIAMI — Florida’s prison population has topped 100,000 for the first time, making it only the third state in the nation to break into six digits after California and Texas.

The Department of Corrections said Friday the population hit 100,000 Thursday morning and by midnight was at 100,108, according to department computer records.

At 100,000, Florida’s prison population roughly equals incarcerating one out of every four residents of Miami or almost all the citizens of Gainesville, home to the University of Florida.

California has approximately 170,000 prisoners and Texas has 155,000. Federal prisons combined house approximately 200,000 people.

Florida officials had been expecting the record number for some time. Department of Corrections Secretary Walter McNeil talked about it with state lawmakers earlier in December and in a November interview called it a significant milestone, though he said it could be the summer before the number was reached.

“At that point, it’s sort of a demarcation point,” McNeil said at the time. “For me it’s a statement that our prisons are becoming a burden, and the building of prisons are becoming a greater burden on the taxpayers.”

It was not clear who the 100,000th person was or why they had come to prison, but Florida prison numbers have ballooned as a result of strict sentencing for a range of crimes.

In preparation for more prisoners, the state has purchased and begun setting up tents to house inmates, though none are currently being used. If all the tents were set up and filled, the state would be able to house another 1,200 people in them.

McNeil told lawmakers earlier this month that growth shows no signs of stopping. The state will need to build 19 new prisons in the next five years to house inmates if nothing is done to slow prison growth, he said. He estimated the cost at $1.9 billion, nearly equal to the department’s current annual budget of approximately $2 billion.

McNeil hopes it doesn’t come to that. He told lawmakers they should think about re-evaluating a “lock-em-up” approach to sentencing and focus on ensuring people released from prison don’t return.

In 2005, it cost Florida more than $22,000 annually to house and feed each inmate, a little lower than the national average of just under $24,000. Texas spent about $14,000 per prisoner per year and California $34,000, according to a report by Pew Charitable Trusts.

Nationwide 1.5 million people were in U.S. prisons in 2005, according to the most recent statistics from the U.S. Department of Justice.

source: http://www.salon.com/wires/ap/2008/12/19/D955VBUG2_100/index.html

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