FILE - Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis

Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis

A new public-private partnership tasked with increasing investment in workforce training and re-entry programs for Florida prison inmates was unveiled Friday by Gov. Ron DeSantis.

The Florida Foundation for Correctional Excellence (FFCE) will work with businesses, nonprofit organizations and community leaders to promote innovative and effective career readiness and community re-entry programs within Florida correctional institutions, a news release from DeSantis’ office said.

FFCE will unite public and private organizations to publicize needs, seek resources and donations and encourage philanthropic giving, according to the news release.

“Reducing recidivism, expanding career readiness training and re-entry programs are a vital component of the public safety mission of the Florida Department of Corrections,” said DeSantis, who made the announcement at Operation New Hope in Jacksonville. “We have to do more to get inmates ready for release – ready to be employees and to be productive members of our communities. The Florida Foundation for Correctional Excellence will bring public and private sector partners together to take our efforts to the next level.”

The Florida Department of Corrections operates the nation’s third-largest state prison system, housing 95,000 inmates at more than 140 sites, including 43 prisons.

Of the 30,000 inmates released annually from Florida prisons, only 1,500 had access to any type of education while incarcerated, Sen. Jeff Brandes, R-St. Petersburg, told the Senate Appropriations Committee this week. Providing an organized and streamlined transition from prison to community for these inmates is essential for rehabilitation and integration, the governor’s news release said.

“Today’s announcement is an exciting one – not only for FDC and the impacts it will have on our rehabilitative efforts – but exciting for Florida,” Department of Corrections Secretary Mark Inch said. “The majority of the approximately 95,000 inmates in custody will complete their sentences and will become returning citizens; in fact, 85 percent of the current inmate population will be released. FDC cannot do this alone. Local communities, businesses, social services providers, faith and volunteer organizations, educational providers and institutions and local governments, must be active partners in this process.”

The Senate’s proposed $5.6 billion fiscal year 2021 criminal justice budget seeks $1.9 million for “wellness specialists” to address the lack of re-entry programs. The House’s proposed $5.5 billion criminal justice fiscal 2021 spending plan includes $5.4 million for inmate education, including hiring 17 “wellness specialists” and contracting with tech colleges to provide vocational education.

DeSantis also announced FFCE’s initial board members:

  • Denver Stutler, chief executive officer, U.S. Submergent Technologies
  • David Hart, executive vice president, Florida Chamber of Commerce
  • Erik Dellenbeck, director, Florida Faith-Based and Community-Based Advisory Council
  • Jon McGavin, area manager, Grande Lakes
  • Doug Deason, philanthropist
  • Mark Reynolds, national director, Trinity Broadcast Network

Journalist John Haughey contributed to this report.

Regional Editor

Jason Schaumburg is an award-winning, veteran editor who has been a journalist for more than 20 years. He spent a decade as the top editor in three northern Illinois newsrooms for Shaw Media and Pioneer Press.