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Inmate Visitation Could Become Easier With Relocation Bill

Prison bars
Michael Coghlan/Wikimedia Commons
Lawmakers have proposed a bill that would relocate inmates to prison facilities closer to their homes.

Visits from friends and loved ones can be beneficial to prisoners, but challenging for people who live far away. Florida House and Senate Democrats are proposing a new law to move inmates closer to their homes in an effort to increase visitation opportunities.

House Bill 895, proposed by Rep. Dianne Hart, D-Tampa, would relocate inmates closer to their primary residences. A companion bill, Senate Bill 1032, was filed last week by Sen. Randolph Bracy, D-Orlando.

The measures would require the Department of Corrections to transfer prisoners to locations within 125 driving miles of their homes.

Hart believes placing inmates closer to their families is better for their morale and rehabilitation.

“There are so many people so far away from home that don’t get any visits at all. I believe, personally, that it does impact and affect how they behave a lot of times,” said Hart. “It is critically important that we reconnect families from the prison system in order to make some changes.”

A 2011 study from the Minnesota Department of Corrections found prison visitation helps inmates transition from prison to the community. On average, a single visit lowered rates of reconviction by 13 percent for felony convictions and 25 percent for technical violations.

But the logistics of moving a large number of inmates complicates the matter.

Hart said the moving process will start with determining an inmate’s mental and medical needs, which are the priority for finding facilities closer to home. Inmates with special conditions would not be moved if locations that meet those needs are not found.

There is another concern -- with the state’s uneven distribution of facilities, it may be difficult to place inmates closer to their homes in certain areas.

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Credit Florida Department of Corrections
Florida's uneven distribution of prison facilities may make it difficult to place inmates closer to their homes.

“It is important to note that most of our prisons are in North Florida and there’s not a proportionate amount of institutions located in counties where we receive large numbers of newly sentenced inmates,” Department of Corrections spokesman Patrick Manderfield told The Ledger.

Hart believes the task may prove difficult because of these challenges, but is still important to take a look at.

“It is at least worth the conversation. We cannot give up trying to do things that we believe will have a direct impact on people going in and out of our system,” said Hart.

A cost analysis of the project has not been conducted yet. The bills will be considered during the legislative session that begins on March 5.