Term-limited Jeff Brandes seeks nothing less than changing the nation’s prison education system
Jeff Brandes says Florida does not learn from previous failures in property insurance.

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The St. Petersburg Republican wants Florida to be a model for the rest of the country in leveraging virtual resources to educate state prisoners.

Sen. Jeff Brandes might be term-limited but he’s not going quietly — pursuing quixotic missions with abandon.

The St. Petersburg Republican has proposed knocking the current state bird off its perch (SCR 324), undertaking yet another attempt to allow wine to be sold in bigger bottles (SB 384) and goading other politicians — right up to the Governor — to address the looming property insurance crisis.

But there might not be one quite as unpolitic as taking up the fight for the incarcerated. Brandes is doing it, however, proposing legislation (SB 1226) that would bring school via online classes inside prison walls, to reach the state’s 1,634 inmates younger than 22.

The 20-page legislation calls for the state to invest $3.37 million in bringing the opportunity to earn a standard high school diploma inside prisons via Florida Virtual School.

“Most legislators don’t visit the facilities and most people want to forget about these people when they are on the inside,” Brandes said. “The Department of Corrections … doesn’t really correct behavior. It just warehouses people.”

About 73% of the state’s inmates younger than 22 don’t have a high school diploma, or a GED certificate, according to an analysis of the bill.

His plan would address the teacher shortage in the DOC.

“Most of the prisons I’ve toured have about 1,500 inmates and one, maybe two teachers,” Brandes said.

It’s because DOC pays teachers about $10,000 less than what county school systems pay them, he said.

“It’s obviously a huge challenge to find individuals who are willing to work in the prison system and at reduced pay from other facilities,” Brandes added.

Because of overcrowding, thousands of inmates are serving their time in county jails, Brandes said, where they don’t have access to programs offered in state prisons. As a result, those inmates end up serving their time with nothing to show for it except $50 and a bus pass, he said.

“Idleness is at an all-time high,” he said.

So far, he’s having greater success trying to bring more education within prison walls than anything involving birds or wine bottle size.

Brandes’ bill (SB 1226) is heading to its third hearing in the Senate Appropriations Committee. Republican Rep. Sam Garrison has filed a similar bill (HB 1533) that’s awaiting its second stop in front of the House Criminal Justice & Public Safety Subcommittee.

Brandes said this represents a chance for Florida to be a model for the rest of the country, leveraging the resources of Florida Virtual School, which was the country’s first accredited public high school, authorized by the Legislature in 1997. What it offers could be a game-changer, he said.

“Half of your 80,000 inmates can’t read at a sixth-grade level,” he said.

Republican Sen. Doug Broxson, chairing the Senate Appropriations Subcommittee on Education, appeared impressed.

“This is a second chance for us to do what’s right and get them (inmates) integrated back into the community as productive citizens,” Broxson said. “I applaud you.”

Brandes said there’s much more work to be done.

“This is a first step,” he said. “This establishes a beachhead.”

Anne Geggis

Anne Geggis is a South Florida journalist who began her career in Vermont and has worked at the Sun-Sentinel, the Daytona Beach News-Journal and the Gainesville Sun covering government issues, health and education. She was a member of the Sun-Sentinel team that won the 2019 Pulitzer Prize for coverage of the Parkland high school shooting. You can reach her on Twitter @AnneBoca or by emailing [email protected]


4 comments

  • politics

    February 20, 2022 at 9:56 am

    i CAN not wait till we turn into psychiatrist America..while sucking off twain

  • Edward Lyle

    February 20, 2022 at 4:07 pm

    This cowardly cat sold his soul 10 minutes after he was first elected. All harumph… no nuts.

  • politics

    February 20, 2022 at 5:03 pm

    education is good for the youngsters plus all paths in life. but if the neglected can not fathom the structure well I hope they find a way

  • Edward Freeman

    February 23, 2022 at 2:36 pm

    This is all fine and good, but real the problem is that Florida imprisons far too many of its citizens. Start with the 10-20% of inmates who are innocent. The system in Florida is designed to push people through to prison as fast as possible, not to find out if they are actually guilty. Then look at the myriad of “crimes:” that Florida imprisons people for that resulted in no one getting hurt and nothing being stolen. All of those people should be freed immediately and compensated by the state from the pension funds of the crooked official who put them there in the first place.

Comments are closed.


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