Pubdate: Wed, 17 Mar 2010
Source: Florida Today (Melbourne, FL)
Copyright: 2010 Florida Today
Author: Jack Parker
Note: Parker is Brevard County's sheriff.


Violent Criminals Must Be Kept Behind Bars

In the early 1980s, Florida was experiencing economic challenges
similar to what we are facing today. Unfortunately, one way state
government addressed its lack of funding then was to enact laws
designed to save money by releasing dangerous, violent criminals from
state prisons early.

This release of violent offenders had devastating consequences. Many
of them committed new violent crimes, resulting in new victims, many
of them children. By the mid-1980s, crime was out of control.

How did it affect us locally?

In 1986, Brevard County's murder rate was 300 percent higher than
what it was in 2008.

I don't think a day went by when we weren't hearing of a terrible
crime somewhere in Florida committed by an early released violent
criminal. Too often, it was in Brevard.

In 1995, legislators, including then state senator and now Gov.
Charlie Crist, pushed through a law that required criminals to serve
at least 85 percent of their prison sentence. Florida's violent
crime rate has been decreasing ever since.

Sheriffs across Florida are concerned history may repeat itself as
some legislators are again proposing the early release of violent
inmates. These bills often come cloaked in good intentions, but their
real purpose is to save money.

One example is House Bill 1515 and its companion bill, Senate Bill
484. The proposed law is marketed as an act of kindness to release
elderly inmates from prison, including those sentenced to life in
prison without the possibility of parole for murder, allegedly because
they are too old to hurt anyone anymore.

So what is the problem?

The proposal defines elderly as age 50. That fact alone illustrates
the deceptive nature of this legislation.

Two other bills of concern are Senate Bill 184, and its companion,
House Bill 23. Known as The Second Chance for Children in Prison Act,
it also sounds like an act of kindness.

However, this law will allow persons who were as old as 15 when they
murdered someone, even those sentenced to life in prison without the
possibility of parole, to be released after serving only eight years
in prison.

You may have heard recent news coverage about this initiative and how
it would assist two Brevard youth who were convicted for murder. But
this legislation, if passed, would hurt many more people than it would

What the news coverage did not mention is this legislation also makes
those convicted of the most heinous murders and gang rapes, even those
sentenced to life without parole, eligible for release after only
eight years. Many of these offenders will rape and kill again.

I understand the need to reduce state spending. But protecting our
citizens is the most important responsibility we have in government.
The budget for the state Department of Corrections, including running
all of the state's prisons, is only 3.8 percent of the total state

Releasing dangerous, violent convicted criminals early from prison is
not the answer. Unfortunately, there is momentum in the state Capitol
to condone this practice. Please contact your state legislators and
ask them to oppose these dangerous bills and bills like them.

Parker is Brevard County's sheriff. 
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