Friday, September 19th, 2014

Scott-O-Meter

Reduce prisoner costs by $1 billion

"Paying competitive market-based salaries for corrections staff, utilizing inmate labor to grow prison food, and competitively bidding health care contracts resulting in public prison costs that are as low as private prisons, prisoner costs would be reduced by $1 billion."


Updates

Nowhere near $1 billion cut from prison budget

Gov. Rick Scott promised to reduce spending on prisons before he was elected, and he set the bar high, pledging to cut $1 billion out of the state's $2.4 billion state corrections budget.

During Scott's first legislative session in 2011, the state did slash prison spending, but by far less than Scott had promised. We found differing accounts on how much they cut, though at most it was $284 million. (In a strange situation, Scott's office offered different numbers from the corrections department, but neither estimate came near $1 billion.) Scott said he would achieve the savings through changes to health care contracts, salaries, and a program in which inmates grow some of their own food. Because the cost reduction was much less than Scott promised, we rated this promise Stalled in January 2012.

After Scott's fourth legislative session this year, we decided to revisit his promise to cut $1 billion from prisons.

The budget for the corrections department for the next fiscal year is about $2.3 billion, down from $2.39 billion when Scott took office. That's a reduction of about $90 million, far less than the $1 billion Scott promised. We asked a Scott spokesman for comment, but didn't get a response.

Kurt Wenner, vice president of tax research at Florida TaxWatch, told PolitiFact Florida that cutting $1 billion from state prisons would have been very difficult without significantly reducing the prison population by releasing nonviolent offenders to diversion programs. Those programs might include substance abuse and mental health services, re-entry services, electronic monitoring, faith and character based programs and drug and veterans courts, Wenner said.

"Some progress has been made in these areas but much more can be done. Despite a declining crime rate, Florida's prison population is expected to rise this year," he said. "Even with these recommendations, a $1 billion reduction is very ambitious."  

So Scott did achieve some savings in the state's prison budget, but not the whopping 42 percent cut he promised. We rate this Promise Broken.

Sources:

Florida TaxWatch, "Modern management and sensible savings," November 2013

Interview, Jessica Cary, spokeswoman Florida Department of Corrections, June 18, 2014

Interview, John Tupps, spokesman Gov. Rick Scott, June 20, 2014

Interview, Kurt Wenner, vice president of tax research Florida TaxWatch, June 24, 2014

Scott has a long way to go toward $1 billion in prison cuts

Among all of Rick Scott's campaign promises, perhaps the most contested as being unrealistic was a pledge to cut $1 billion out of the state prisons budget.

Why?

Because the budget was only $2.39 billion to start with.

Scott cited three ways to cut the corrections budget by more than 40 percent in his campaign booklet:

  • Pay competitive market-based salaries for Department of Corrections staff;
  • Utilize inmate labor to grow prison food;
  • Competitively bid health care contracts

We are monitoring each of those promises here, here and here. In this case, we're looking at the larger promise to shrink the state prison budget by $1 billion.

On the dollar figure, Scott appears to have a long way to go.

In his 2011-12 budget proposal, Scott called for cuts of $135 million from the agency's $2.393 billion budget by dismissing 1,700 employees, cutting warden pay by 5 percent and sending up to 1,500 inmates into private, for-profit facilities, among other ideas.

What the actual corrections budget and cuts were for 2011-12 depends on whom you ask. According to the budget Scott signed into law, the corrections budget was $2.277 billion (a reduction of about $123 million). According to Scott, the approved budget was $2.188 billion (a reduction of around $212 million). According to the Department of Corrections, the final figure was $2.116 billion (a decrease of $284 million).

Whatever the actual cut was -- as much as we find it kind of scary to have a difference of opinion totaling $161 million -- Scott has proposed to shrink the corrections budget further in 2012-13 to $2.085 billion. The bulk of the cuts would come from transferring inmates in underpopulated prisons into other facilities and then closing under-used lockups. By 2014, officials say Florida's prison beds will outnumber prisoners by roughly 16,000 (page 11 of budget presentation).

So, if Scott gets his way -- and if the bean counters can agree on what the actual budget number is -- the governor will have cut somewhere around $308 million out of the state prison budget. That's far short of Scott's goal even without considering that much of the savings is thanks to a smaller prison population and not state policy shifts.

We asked Scott's press office to weigh in on how this promise is going. Instead of addressing the methods by which Scott said he would reduce the state prison budget, his press office claimed the $1 billion promise applied to not only the Department of Corrections but also the Department of Juvenile Justice, where he wants to reduce excessive beds.

But that's what Scott pledged in statements by Scott and his campaign press team.

In an interview with PolitiFact Florida last year, Scott's campaign spokesman Joe Kildea said, "There are other states that have lower prison budget costs than Florida, because they have some less expensive facilities and have lower recidivism rates. One billion dollars represents the gap between Florida's and Texas' costs, and is an example of where the accountability budgeting process will begin, but is not a final budget plan."

People scoffed at Scott's assertion he could trim the prison budget by $1 billion. So far, those critics seem to have a point. Scott has a little time to rescue this promise but for now we find it Stalled.

Sources:

Interviews with Sen. Mike Fasano, Senate Budget Subcommittee on Criminal and Civil Justice Appropriations, Dec. 28, 2011

"Dive inside Gov. Scott's criminal and civil justice budget ideas," Tampa Bay Times' politics blog, Dec. 8, 2011

Gov. Rick Scott's 7-7-7 book to Turn Florida Around

Gov. Rick Scott's 2012-13 budget proposal

Gov. Rick Scott's Communications Office, written responses to PolitiFact's questions about the Scott-O-Meter, Dec. 28, 2011

"Rick Scott's plan to slash prison spending called a 'hoax,' 'shell game,'" St. Petersburg Times, Sept. 23, 2010

Agenda materials for Dec. 8, 2011 meeting of Senate Budget Subcommittee on Criminal and Civil Justice Appropriations

"Gov. Rick Scott's prisons overhaul hits resistance in Senate," St. Petersburg Times, Feb. 10, 2011

"Police union attacks Rick Scott's budget plan, saying it closes prisons and releases prisoners early," PolitiFact Florida, Oct. 4, 2010

Department of Corrections quick facts

"Privatizing of Florida prisons' health care hits snag," St. Petersburg Times, Nov. 9, 2011

The Scott-O-Meter adds a new prison promise

When we launched the Scott-O-Meter on Jan. 1, 2011, we identified 56 promises that Gov. Rick Scott made during the campaign.

But we knew there might be more out there.

We added one in the first week, a promise to bring an Arizona-style immigration law to Florida. We already have rated that promise In the Works. On Jan. 12, 2011, we decided to add another promise.

During the campaign, Scott pledged major spending cuts to the Department of Corrections, saying he can shave $1 billion out of the $2.4 billion state corrections budget.

"Paying competitive market-based salaries for corrections staff, utilizing inmate labor to grow prison food, and competitively bidding health care contracts resulting in public prison costs that are as low as private prisons, prisoner costs would be reduced by $1 billion."

Each of those three individual policy promises already are included on the Scott-O-Meter (as of this update, all are Not Yet Rated). But we realized, thanks to a suggestion from a reader, that Scott could deliver on each of those promises but still not save $1 billion.

So we decided to add the overall dollar-figure promise as well.

The proposed cuts to the state Department of Corrections have been controversial, and were the subject of a television ad attacking Scott during the campaign. In the ad, the Florida Police Benevolent Association said Scott's prison plan "would cut Florida's prison budget in half, close prisons, and release tens of thousands of prisoners early -- murderers, rapists, sex offenders, armed robbers, drug dealers." PolitiFact Florida ruled that claim Barely True.

So along with Scott's proposed policy and management changes to the Department of Corrections, we'll now be looking to see if he can save $1 billion in prisoner costs.

We'd like to hear your suggestions for any other Scott campaign promises he made before the election. You can email us at politifactflorida@gmail.com.

Sources:

Rick Scott 7-7-7 plan, "Reduce government spending," accessed Jan. 12, 2011

PolitiFact Florida, "Police union attacks Rick Scott's budget plan, saying it closes prisons and releases prisoners early," Oct. 4, 2010