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.