By Roy A. Burges, Guest Editorial
I live in Union Correctional Institution, the oldest prison in Florida with 1,043 inmates older than 50. Most, like me, have been incarcerated for decades and have no hope of getting out soon. But when I read the Orlando Sentinel editorial “Clemency for silver-haired cons is a golden cost saver” published on Nov. 6, 2014, hope came alive.
In 2012, I filed a clemency petition for commutation of my sentence. From 1980 to March this year, Florida governors have commuted sentences for 159 inmates, according to The Clemency Report. In November 2015, I received a letter from the clemency coordinator in response to my inquiry as to the status of my petition. She said officials are processing my request for clemency and that I should be patient.
For several years, the Florida Legislature has talked about releasing the elderly early. The Orlando Sentinel editorial says that the state could save millions of dollars by releasing a small percentage of the elderly prison population.
But so far, no bills for the release of elderly prisoners have passed. Last year I read a bill that would release prisoners who were 65 or older. What has happened to it, I wonder?
Maybe our lawmakers need to look at what Maryland has done with its elderly prison population. For several years, state officials have been releasing elderly inmates. A program on National Public Radio reported that none of them have violated their conditions or committed any new crimes.
Releasing the elderly is a common-sense approach. Men who have been in prison a long time will be good citizens. They don’t want to go back to prison, as they are older and wiser. The Legislature needs to open doors for these men and save the taxpayers money. According to Florida TaxWatch, releasing the elderly could save hundreds of millions of dollars.
I’ve been incarcerated since 1989. This is my third time in the Florida prison system. I should have known better and offer no excuses. But in the past 25 years, I’ve been writing stories, articles and plays about my faith and what God is teaching me behind these prison fences. Hundreds of them have been published around the world, and every year I add another 25 or 30 to that number.
My expiration date is currently set for 2043, but with gain time, I can bring it down to 2028. At this time, I’ll be 80 years old, God willing that I live that long.
Will Florida ever recognize that releasing the elderly is something it can do and save money at the same time?