Action News Jax Investigates: Criminal diversion programs

Action News Jax Investigates: Criminal Diversion Programs

JACKSONVILLE, Fla. — A new report finds low-level offenders have a better chance of staying out of prison if they're offered alternative sentences like diversion programs.

Florida's inmate population is the third largest in the United States -- more than 96,000 inmates with an annual budget of $2.3 billion.

According to the Florida Department of Corrections, the average cost to house an inmate is more than $20,000 per year.

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State Attorney Melissa Nelson said her office has expanded the use of diversion programs, which she said saves taxpayers money and means fewer people in Florida prisons.


“We know the justice system and the prison system is expensive to all of us, and so if there is a way to make you safer and do it less expensively and keep people in their communities, the data and the research shows that is better,” Nelson said.

According to a report by the Office of Program Policy Analysis and Government Accountability, the average daily cost to incarcerate a prisoner is about $55.80 a day, compared to only $5.52 per day for probation.

The group's analysis said low-level offenders sentenced to prison have a higher chance of becoming repeat offenders than those sentenced to community supervision.

In total, the Fourth Judicial Circuit has seven diversion programs targeting veterans, drug offenders and juveniles. There's also The Keys to Drive program, which helps people obtain a valid driver’s license. Nelson says in a six-month period, 400 licenses were reinstated.

The State Attorney’s Office recently hired a smart justice coordinator, who searches other districts for programs and best practices that could work in Northeast Florida.

“If we can have the same positive public safety outcomes, again using less expensive alternatives, then it makes sense,” Nelson said.

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