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Corrections declares end to lax house arrest rules

©Associated Press
March 14, 2003

TALLAHASSEE -- A new zero-tolerance policy for criminals breaking the rules of house arrest has been announced by Corrections Secretary James Crosby.

"If you commit a violation, you will be reported to the courts," Crosby said.

Previously, house arrest officers often ignored "technical" violations, especially if the offender didn't break any laws. Two weeks ago, that stopped, Crosby said.

"I don't know why we wouldn't do zero tolerance," Crosby said Thursday. "We have a responsibility to report it to the judges. It shouldn't be done on a case-by-case basis."

Asked why a zero-tolerance policy wasn't in effect in the past, Crosby replied, "Tradition."

Since the change was implemented, Crosby said, there has been "continuous improvement."

The Florida Department of Corrections also has reassigned probation officers to relieve a serious case load imbalance. State law caps a house arrest officer's workload at 25 cases, but DOC has often ignored the limit.

For example, in January, officers in Orlando, Jacksonville and Fort Pierce averaged 35 cases each. As of last month, however, officers saw that stripped down to a maximum of 28 cases, Crosby said.

A state Senate committee passed a bill Wednesday designed to slash the number of violent offenders on house arrest. In addition, an investigative panel urged the Legislature to give DOC $5-million for electronic tethers, so it can monitor house arrest criminals more closely.

About 6 percent of the 10,100 criminals on house arrest are outfitted with monitors.

An Orlando Sentinel investigation found that criminals on house arrest routinely break the law, victimize hundreds of people each year and simply don't stay home.

In the program's 20-year history, more than 234 people have been killed and 538 sexually abused by criminals on house arrest, the newspaper reported. More than 5,000 criminals on house arrest have disappeared, never to be recaptured.

Sen. Victor Crist, R-Tampa, chairman of the criminal justice appropriations subcommittee, predicted that the Legislature would find money for more monitors.

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