Florida’s Inmate Welfare Trust Fund could soon expand in size and scope under a bill passed Wednesday in the House.
The Department of Corrections (DOC) uses the fund to finance inmate educational, vocational and substance abuse programs. It’s also used for inmate libraries, visitor services and religious ceremonies.
The bill (HB 5401), which now awaits Senate consideration, would double the fund limit to $7.5 million and expand its uses.
Lawmakers passed the bill in a unanimous 117-0 vote with only one question and no debate. Longwood Republican Rep. Scott Plakon is the bill sponsor.
DOC finances the fund using proceeds from canteen purchases, inmate phone calls and the sale of contraband seized by guards.
Under current law, every dollar beyond the $2.5 million limit is transferred into General Revenue. The bill, however, raises that limit and allows the fund to finance maintenance projects and other environmental conditions improvements at state prisons.
Tampa Democratic Rep. Dianne Hart applauded the measure. She stood as the sole lawmaker to speak on the bill and vowed to ensure the dollars are spent appropriately.
“We just need to make sure that absolutely these dollars are spent where we were guaranteed they were going to be spent,” Hart said. “We need those educational opportunities for our loved ones. We need to ensure that we do something with some of these dilapidated buildings that we have that’s falling down around our loved ones.”
Hart also highlighted the importance of inmate educational and vocational programs. Inmates, she contended, are best served when they rejoin society with more skills and certifications.
“We must know that our people are being educated and that they’re getting the training that they need to be prepared to leave. … We’re sending people home broken in some instances worse than when we received them,” Hart added.
The Florida prison system is the third largest in the nation. Prison conditions and staffing, however, are dire.