TALLAHASSEE, Fla .– A Florida lawmaker wants to improve education programs for state prisoners and thereby reduce recidivism rates.
State Senator Jeff Brandes, R-St. Petersburg, said in a recent interview that he was working with the Florida Virtual School create a “justice education division”.
“It would expand Florida Virtual’s resources and allow us, in a very scalable way, to provide education to thousands and thousands of incarcerated people,” Brandes said.
Brandes hoped his idea would develop skills such as literacy, because about half of the state’s 80,000 inmates cannot read by the sixth grade level. It is a major obstacle to finding employment after incarceration and has an impact on the rate of recidivism in Florida, which is currently about 24 percent.
“One of the main factors enabling people able to get a job when they leave the prison system, and do not commit new crimes, is the ability to read,” Brandes said. “And yet we are not spending money, no real resources on helping people learn to read.”
The state senator has long been a champion of prison reform efforts, proposing and supporting several political ideas during his tenure. Brandes is on a limited time after 2022, but said he was leaving the bedroom feeling he had made an impact.
“We have drummed harder than anyone in the past six years in the legislature,” Brandes said. “And just because I’m leaving the legislature doesn’t mean I’m going to leave this question. I think there is space for a former legislator to step up and really provide data-driven information to the legislature on how to transform a system that is currently focused on punishment and put in place a system focused on public safety. ”
Brandès did not deposit any bill language for his idea of virtual education, but he’s got plenty of time. Lawmakers return for the 2022 legislative session in January.