Saturday, February 17, 2007

Can Sarasota criminal justice avoid the same problems that plague Broward County?

Broward County's jails are chronically overcrowded because the justice system moves too slowly, leaving defendants incarcerated for longer and longer periods, federal jail consultants said Friday.

The consultants, hired by the U.S. Department of Justice's National Institute of Corrections, spread the blame evenly among the county's law enforcement, prosecutors, defense attorneys and judges, saying that the entire system needs streamlining.

"It's not cases, it's not population ... it's your policies and procedures," said consultant Tim Schnacke. "You have the ability to stem the tide."

Sheriff Ken Jenne requested the study in September because of recent overcrowding. The jail has struggled with the issue since the 1970s, when a group of inmates sued, saying that overcrowding violated their civil rights. A federal monitor still keeps an eye on jail conditions as a result of that lawsuit.

The consultants gathered data from Broward County's five jails and presented it at the Sheriff's Office for the first time Friday. They found that the average daily jail population jumped about 17 percent from 2002 to 2006, even though the number of defendants and criminal cases remained flat. They said the overcrowding is caused by an increase from 27 to 32 days in the average stay of a defendant during those years.

The consultants were aghast to find 160 people in jail for more than 11/2 years and 62 of those there for more than two years.

"Folks, this doesn't happen," said consultant Marie VonNostrand.. "We don't chart it nationally because this doesn't happen."

They also found that the jails had a much larger percentage of people awaiting trial than the national average.

The consultants' recommendations include:

Streamline early hearings to quickly take care of pleas and bail issues.

Evaluate more people for pretrial release.

Expand drug court to include repeat offenders and other drug-related crimes.

Make bond hearings more flexible.

Speed up violation of probation cases and consider not jailing those who violate their probations on technicalities.

Reduce continuances and delays in criminal cases.

Most people who heard the results weren't surprised by the findings.

"I think it just encouraged everybody to go back and redouble their efforts," said Jeff Marcus, chief of the Broward State Attorney's Office's felony division.

Public Defender Howard Finkelstein discounted most of the proposed solutions and homed in on the 975 people in jail this week with bail amounts of $5,000 or less. He said those people have been deemed a low risk to society and are being held simply because they're poor.

"How much money you have in your possession is irrelevant to whether or not you should be released," he said.

He suggested that people with such low bail should be released on their own recognizance if they're poor to reduce overcrowding.

Henry W. Mack, chairman of the Broward County Public Safety Coordinating Council, said the presentation was useful. The county created the council in 1987 to solve the county's jail overcrowding.

"I'm having some new thoughts," Mack said. "Our next meeting is going to be a very fruitful one."
Article found at:,0,4492468.story?coll=sfla-home-headline

By Brian Haas
South Florida Sun-Sentinel

Brian Haas can be reached at

Monday, February 12, 2007

A New jail for Sarasota County? Part 5

The Sun-Herald newspaper that serves Venice and North Port has recently written some reasonable editorials about the jail situation in Sarasota county. Below are some of their thoughts, published in February of 2007.

If you are arrested, you could do far worse than serve time in the Sarasota County jail.

While not a country club (a term applied to some federal prisons), Sarasota's jail ranks near the top of all Florida jails, according to reports from state inspectors.

It is spotlessly clean. Food is catered in. The jail appears to be safe compared to some facilities for prisoners awaiting trial or sentenced to spend up to a year behind bars.

Services are available that offenders lack outside. If you arrive with a toothache, a dentist is available two days a week. Those who have mental problems are evaluated.

If you have been cut in a fight, a nurse practitioner will treat or suture your injuries. If you are truly ill, they will care for you in a small, but well-equipped hospital ward that includes X-ray equipment.

Prisoners also are separated by crime committed. Those who have been violent are housed together away from those accused of lesser offenses.

There is a chapel that holds more than a dozen services each week, as well as Bible study classes.

Chronic drunks and crackheads stay in a special room. A nurse keeps watch as they go through night sweats, high fever, panic attacks, anxiety attacks, sleeplessness, fatigue and heart palpitations.

If sitting around in a day room wears a person down, in the old section there is a roof-top recreation area and in the new north wing it is possible to exercise in a fresh air room by tossing a basketball through a hoop.

There is one shower head for every 16 inmates, a toilet for every eight persons. A toilet is located in every cell, although there is no privacy.

The new wing, completed in 2002, has washers and driers to keep clothing clean. An inmate can call a lawyer or a family member.

It does have flaws. There is too little room for police vehicles bringing inmates in. Cars and vans with prisoners stack up Ringling Boulevard.

The jail is labor-intensive. One officer is required to escort every person being booked.

The jail is overcrowded. County commissioners are being asked to find a solution -- a project that will cost taxpayers millions.

To hold down the overflow, the courts conduct frequent "sweeps" to see if there are relatively harmless prisoners who should be sent home to await trial.

When the jail is filled, a third inmate moves into a two-bunk cell, sleeping in a dinghy-size plastic mattress tray on the floor.

The oldest, least desirable section of the jail was constructed in 1975. It was designed for 214 inmates. In 1987 the east wing was constructed for 540 more. When those two sections began to overflow, a north wing was constructed. It opened in 2002, adding 288 beds.

The sixth and final floor is scheduled to open in April. New corrections officers are completing their training. But even then the jail is expected to continue to exceed its capacity of 1,044 inmates.

Several times in recent months the Sarasota County jail has been filled to overflowing. When that happens, cells with two bunks must accommodate three prisoners.

So what can the county do? Commissioners delayed hiring a consultant until a county committee does more work. To try to buy time the county is spending $6 million in 2007 to improve the old facility.

What prevents the County from moving the jail out of downtown Sarasota?

First, overcrowding varies day to day. The present jail is across from the courthouse. Prisoners must be transported in handcuffs and leg irons.

Money is an issue. The jail's north wing opened in 2002. The cost for 288 additional beds, a new kitchen, and health care space was $17 million. Price of new jail complex would be much more. But the cost to taxpayers goes up each year.

The biggest barrier is the NIMBY factor -- "not in my back yard." People don't want a jail as their neighbor. Some fear inmates will escape. They don't want busses and vans filled with prisoners cruising through their neighborhood. They worry about property values.

That's why there has been talk of sharing a jail with DeSoto and Manatee counties. That requires a great deal of travel time and cost.

There may be another solution -- near I-75 in North Port.

Several North Port commissioners think a North Port jail might be possible. The county also could build a juvenile facility and courthouse in the city.

Fred Tower says there is a block of land in the Yorkshire area -- small private lots that could be rezoned. But swift action would be required.

Today's land prices are down. Wait two or three years and it might be more difficult to rezone and buy property. Tower believes up to 500 acres could be made available for a jail and/or industrial park.

Why would North Port want the new jail?

It could provide up to 200 local jobs. Many North Port residents now drive long distances to find work.

North Port has been unable to extend water and sewer lines out that far. Building a jail would solve that problem.

Then there is the cost of transporting the city's prisoners. It ties up officers who should be out patrolling the streets.

Finally, North Port will have some 250,000 residents when it is built out. At present 55,000 people live in the City of Sarasota, 370,000 in the county. An estimated 45,000 to 50,000 already call North Port home. In time, the City of Sarasota will become the "little brother."

It is time for county commissioners, administrators, and planning staff to tour North Port. They also might benefit from flying over the city in a helicopter. County officials make too many decisions without knowing what is happening in North Port.

Putting a jail, a branch court house and juvenile center near I-75 in North Port would solve several thorny problems. As the city grows the crime rate is expected to increase. From the standpoint of demographics, it makes sense. But the county should act while there is empty land. It will take time to change the zoning and install infrastructure.

The jail should now move up the county's priority list.

Sunday, February 11, 2007

Pot Prisoners Cost Americans $1 Billion a Year:

American taxpayers are now spending more than a billion dollars per year to incarcerate its citizens for pot. That's according to statistics recently released by the U.S. Department of Justice's Bureau of Justice Statistics.

According to the new BJS report, "Drug Use and Dependence, State and Federal Prisoners, 2004," 12.7 percent of state inmates and 12.4 percent of federal inmates incarcerated for drug violations are serving time for marijuana offenses. Combining these percentages with separate U.S. Department of Justice statistics on the total number of state and federal drug prisoners suggests that there are now about 33,655 state inmates and 10,785 federal inmates behind bars for marijuana offenses. The report failed to include estimates on the percentage of inmates incarcerated in county and/or local jails for pot-related offenses.

Multiplying these totals by U.S. DOJ prison expenditure data reveals that taxpayers are spending more than $1 billion annually to imprison pot offenders.

The new report is noteworthy because it undermines the common claim from law enforcement officers and bureaucrats, specifically White House drug czar John Walters, that few, if any, Americans are incarcerated for marijuana-related offenses. In reality, nearly 1 out of 8 U.S. drug prisoners are locked up for pot.

Of course, several hundred thousand more Americans are arrested each year for violating marijuana laws, costing taxpayers another $8 billion dollars annually in criminal justice costs.

According to the most recent figures available from the FBI, police arrested an estimated 786,545 people on marijuana charges in 2005 -- more than twice the number of Americans arrested just 12 years ago. Among those arrested, about 88 percent -- some 696,074 Americans -- were charged with possession only. The remaining 90,471 individuals were charged with "sale/manufacture," a category that includes all cultivation offenses, even those where the marijuana was being grown for personal or medical use.

These totals are the highest ever recorded by the FBI, and make up 42.6 percent of all drug arrests in the United States. Nevertheless, self-reported pot use by adults, as well as the ready availability of marijuana on the black market, remains virtually unchanged.

Marijuana isn't a harmless substance, and those who argue for a change in the drug's legal status do not claim it to be. However, pot's relative risks to the user and society are arguably fewer than those of alcohol and tobacco, and they do not warrant the expenses associated with targeting, arresting and prosecuting hundreds of thousands of Americans every year.

According to federal statistics, about 94 million Americans -- that's 40 percent of the U.S. population age 12 or older -- self-identify as having used cannabis at some point in their lives, and relatively few acknowledge having suffered significant deleterious health effects due to their use. America's public policies should reflect this reality, not deny it. It makes no sense to continue to treat nearly half of all Americans as criminals.

By Paul Armentano, AlterNet
This article originally appeared in the Washington Examiner.

Crist crime bill goes too far:

As attorney general, Charlie Crist failed to persuade state lawmakers to approve his misnamed "antimurder" legislation because of legitimate concerns about the high cost of arbitrarily cracking down on felons accused of violating probation. As governor, he probably will have better luck even though the cost suddenly has more than doubled. It's far too high a price for taxpayers to pay to fulfill a simplistic campaign promise that would limit judicial discretion, further overcrowd county jails and require more than 2,500 new prison beds.

At Crist's request, the Senate Criminal Justice Committee last week unanimously voted to beef up last year's version of the bill by expanding the types of felons who would be automatically jailed on alleged probation violations until a judge decided whether to revoke the probation. If probation was revoked, the possible prison sentences would be dramatically increased. It even would be possible to lock someone up for a term longer than the maximum sentence for the original crime.

No wonder the projected cost over five years has ballooned, from more than $118-million last year to more than $268-million now. Roughly two new prisons would be needed just to house the additional number of felons expected to be returned to prison for probation violations. That's money that could be better spent on other priorities such as health care and education.

Crist kept pushing this proposal in response to the horrific child murders of Jessica Lunsford, Sarah Lunde and Carlie Brucia. Yet it is debatable whether this bill would have applied to Joseph Smith, now on death row for the rape and murder of 11-year-old Carlie. Crist has contended the provisions would have forced Smith back to prison before the attack, but Smith's probation violation involved failing to pay fines. The legislation explicitly does not apply to such probation violations, so suggesting this bill would have saved Carlie's life is misleading at best.

There already has been an overreaction to the murders of those girls that has overburdened local courts and county jails. The Department of Corrections, in an attempt to avoid any blame, adopted a zero-tolerance approach to alleged probation violators and required them to be arrested and jailed until they saw a judge. That helped create crisis situations in overcrowded jails, including Pinellas County's. Hillsborough County judges created a new division to deal with probation violators, and Pinellas judges are expected to take similar action. But reality is even setting in at the Department of Corrections, which has revised its approach to dealing with technical violations of probation to help reduce the number of people in jail just waiting to see a judge.

Now the governor would make a bad situation worse. Nobody wants probationers convicted of the most violent felonies to remain on the street if they commit serious violations. But the antimurder legislation goes beyond reason, applying to felons convicted of such crimes as poisoning food, attempted arson and aircraft piracy. Now the new version - which mirrors a rejected one from 2005 - also would apply to felons previously convicted of such crimes as attempted kidnapping, attempted carjacking and attempted home invasion robbery. The weight given to the probation violation upon resentencing would be doubled.

The high price tag doesn't even include the additional cost to county jails for holding these alleged probation violators until a judge sees them. So just as the governor and state legislators accuse counties of spending wildly and promote property tax cuts, they are poised to pass down another expensive unfunded mandate. That sort of hypocrisy has to stop.

Top-down, arbitrary requirements like this one are poor substitutes for local decisionmaking that is responsible and accountable. The new governor has already made a number of smart decisions by taking a fresh look at difficult issues. This irresponsible legislation is more reminiscent of the old Charlie Crist who exploited crime issues and pandered to voters' fears of random violence. Everyone is anti-murder, and it is understandable that legislators want to help the governor achieve one of his top priorities. But this goes too far, and lawmakers have to rein it in before it's too late.

A St. Petersburg Times Editorial
Published February 11, 2007

Thursday, February 08, 2007

A community conversation about the death penalty in Indiana

As a way of helping the public understand the history and social impact of the death penalty, Butler University, the Indiana University School of Law-Indianapolis, the Christian Theological Seminary and an abolitionist group are co-sponsoring an 11-day symposium this month to explore the pros and cons of one of the most divisive issues in American public policy.

“This is one of the great issues” in U.S. politics said Peter Alexander, dean of the Jordan School of Fine Arts at Butler and one of the organizers of the symposium. “This has been a long time in coming, three or four years. It [the symposium] will be a community conversation intended to shine a light on the death penalty and show how it affects a lot of people.”

The event will start on Feb. 8 at Christian Theological Seminary with a discussion on whether the Bible supports the death penalty. But it will gear up completely on Feb. 21 for 10 days of discussions and debates.

“The United States is one of only a handful of modern, industrialized countries to administer this ultimate punishment,” Alexander said in a prepared statement. “Through the presentation of lectures, debates, films and dramatic performances, the symposium will provide a balanced examination of the death penalty that is carried out in our names and authorized by the United States legal system.”

Though he will not say whether he now supports or opposes capital punishment, Alexander said the symposium will offer civil conversation on capital punishment, although many of the presenters will have already formed strong opinions on the issue.

“The State of Indiana has shown an increase in the number of people it is willing to put to death,” said Scott Seay, a CTS professor and an opponent of the death penalty. “We are gravely concerned that trend is going to continue.” Seay and Wilma Bailey, also a seminary professor, will conduct the Feb. 8 discussion.

Some 128 countries have abolished capital punishment in law or in practice and, in 2005, approximately 2,150 people were executed in 22 countries, though 94 percent of those were in only four countries: China, with at least 1,777; Iran, with 94; Saudi Arabia, with 86; and the United States, with 60.

“This is a violent country,“ Alexander said. “But it’s an open question as to whether the violence leads to more executions or whether capital punishment deters more violent crime.”

While those who oppose capital punishment are numerous and vocal in Indiana and around the country, many people consider the death penalty an issue like abortion, with clearly drawn lines of supporters and opponents that remain fundamentally unchanged. But capital punishment enjoys strong support. A Gallup poll last year showed that 64 percent of those surveyed supported the death penalty, more than twice the percentage of people who oppose it.

“If you add other options, such as life in prison without the chance for parole, to the mix, then the support [for the death penalty] drops to below 50 percent,” said Chris Hitz-Bradley, the president of the Indiana Information Center on the Abolition of Capital Punishment, which is also a co-sponsor of the symposium. In fact, the same Gallup showed that when given a choice between the death penalty and life in prison without parole, there is roughly equal support for capital punishment and life without parole, both at around 48 percent.

Clark County Prosecutor Steven D. Stewart strongly supports capital punishment over life without parole. “It cheapens the life of an innocent murder victim to say that society has no right to keep the murderer from ever killing again. In my view, society has not only the right, but the duty to act in self-defense to protect the innocent.” In a letter posted on his Web site, Stewart maintains that “Life without parole does not eliminate the risk that the prisoner will murder a guard, a visitor or another inmate, and we should not be compelled to take that risk. It is also not unheard of for inmates to escape from prison.”

But Hitz-Bradley takes exception with that. “You don’t have to kill people to protect society,” he said. “And there is no evidence to show that those in prison facing the death penalty are more dangerous than other people in prison for non-capital murder.”

Alexander said the purpose of the symposium is to open a positive discussion on the issue, not for the advancement of one position or the other. “There are many issues that people don’t think much about,” he said. “People will come away [from the symposium] with a much more nuanced view of the death penalty.”

The cost of the death penalty in Indiana

Indiana is one of 38 states in the U.S. that currently sanctions capital punishment. In many states, executing a prisoner costs much more than keeping them locked up for life. In Indiana, the total costs of the death penalty exceed the complete costs of life without parole sentences by more than one third.

Executions around the world

With 60 executions in 2005, the United States ranks fourth among countries utilizing capital punishment. Here are the top five countries and their execution numbers.

1. China (1,777)
2. Iran (94)
3. Saudi Arabia (86)
4. United States (60)
5. Pakistan (31)

by Michael Dabney published in Nuvo Indiana's alternative weekly

Sunday, February 04, 2007

Crist's mental health budget plan falls short

Gov. Charlie Crist's efforts to help the mentally ill packing Florida jails address the wrong end of the problem, says Mary Ruiz, CEO of Manatee Glens, the county's psychiatric hospital.

Less than one-third of a $79 million increase earmarked in the governor's budget proposal would go toward community programs that would keep the mentally ill out of jail, Ruiz said.

"It's backwards," Ruiz said. "Gov. Crist's budget addresses the crisis, but not the cause - the fact that Florida is 48th out of 50 states in per capita investment for mental health services."

"Mary is right on point," said Col. Brad Steube of the Manatee County Sheriff's Office. "There are people sitting in our jail who shouldn't be there, but they were arrested for some misdemeanor that wouldn't have happened if they had been under treatment."

Still, Ruiz said Crist's proposed allocation is welcome recognition of a serious problem too long ignored.

The mental health community has sharply criticized law enforcement and the state for mishandling the mentally ill in jails.

"Any change in the system that would allow for treatment for the mentally ill inmates is a tremendous advancement that is sorely needed," said Linda Davis, president of the local chapter of the National Alliance on Mental Illness.

"We have several families within NAMI membership who have had relatives in jail who had to go without medications," Davis said. "That doesn't do anybody any good."

While Ruiz lauded Crist for trying to solve a problem other governors have ignored, she criticized his proposals for falling short of the need, especially at the local level.

"It's disheartening for the families of mentally ill persons and for me as a local mental health advocate, to see that only $27.5 million of the $79 million in the governor's budget is directed to community treatment," Ruiz said.

Davis agreed more money is needed for treatment programs that keep the mentally out of jail before they get it trouble.

"But something is better than nothing," she said.

Ruiz hopes Crist will do more.

"Without a greater investment in community treatment services, we will certainly face a continuing and escalating crisis each year."

Steube echoed her concern.

"There is a great need for more state money for more treatment beds," Steube said. "There are no longer state hospitals for the mentally ill. They end up in our jails."

The solution, Ruiz said, is a sizeable investment in the mental health system over many years to bring Florida to parity with other states.

Davis believes that investment must be matched by a local commitment.

"It takes a commitment within the community to deal with the mentally ill before they end up in jail, rather than than after the fact," she said. "But it is still encouraging to me as a parent to know that if the mentally ill members within our membership find themselves in jail, at least there is a chance they will receive treatment."

All of Crist's $79 million increase is directed toward serving the jailed population, Ruiz said. Her analysis revealed the following:

• Nearly $49 million would fund 353 new secure treatment beds in state institutions.

• Another $2 million would cover operational costs for an additional 38 beds.

• A little more than $5 million would be spent on comprehensive community recovery enhancement teams to provide community services for mentally ill people who have been released from jail so they would not get re-arrested.

Crist's allocation includes almost $800,000 for 30-day medication supplies that will cover the cost of treating stabilized inmates who have been through treatment programs and are now deemed competent to stand trial.

Another $6 million would provide medical services and traditional housing for the mentally ill once they leave jail.

Ruiz likes the concept of the community teams who help former inmates who are mentally ill get medical benefits restored once they are free.

"When you are jailed, you are immediately dis-enrolled by Medicaid or Medicare, if you are in those programs," Ruiz said.

Restoration of those benefits is difficult and time-consuming, she said. Crist's comprehensive community service teams could help with that, she said.

But waiting until the mentally ill are jailed before offering these treatment options is not only backwards but more costly, Ruiz warned.

She cited Bradenton's recently passed camping ban ordinance as an example of the problem.

Mental illness is common among the chronically homeless, Ruiz said. Jailing them for sleeping on the streets does not solve the problem of why they are homeless.

"The cost of putting these people in jail is tremendous," Ruiz said. "There is the cost of incarcerating them, the cost of judges, public defenders and probation officers. In the end we have people who are not a threat to public safety using up resources that could be used on people who are a threat."

And when the mentally ill are turned out of prison they end up back on the street where the odds are high they will get arrested again, Ruiz said.

"The result is we criminalize mental illness and we don't go after the bad guys," Ruiz said. "We need to move toward prevention."

That move, Ruiz believes, must begin now.

"It's not a good statement about our country and state when we are dealing with mental illness by putting people in jail, instead of putting people in treatment," Ruiz said. "That is the wrong place to be as a society. There is something morally wrong and hurtful about that position."

Herald Staff Writer

Saturday, February 03, 2007

Closing the Revolving Door:

The United States is paying a heavy price for the mandatory sentencing fad that swept the country 30 years ago. After a tenfold increase in the nation's prison population -- and a corrections price tag that exceeds $60 billion a year -- the states have often been forced to choose between building new prisons or new schools. Worse still, the country has created a growing felon caste, now more than 16 million strong, of felons and ex-felons, who are often driven back to prison by policies that make it impossible for them to find jobs, housing or education.

Congress could begin to address this problem by passing the Second Chance Act, which would offer support services for people who are leaving prison. But it would take more than one new law to undo 30 years of damage:

Researchers have shown that inmates who earn college degrees tend to find jobs and stay out of jail once released. Congress needs to revoke laws that bar inmates from receiving Pell grants and that bar some students with drug convictions from getting other support. Following Washington's lead, the states have destroyed prison education programs that had long since proved their worth.

People who leave prison without jobs or places to live are unlikely to stay out of jail. Congress should repeal the lifetime ban on providing temporary welfare benefits to people with felony drug convictions. The federal government should strengthen tax credit and bonding programs that encourage employers to hire people with criminal records. States need to stop barring ex-offenders from jobs because of unrelated crimes -- or arrests in the distant past that never led to convictions.

Congress should deny a request from the F.B.I. to begin including juvenile arrests that never led to convictions (and offenses like drunkenness or vagrancy) in the millions of rap sheets sent to employers. That would transform single indiscretions into lifetime stigmas.

Curbing recidivism will also require doing a lot more to provide help and medication for the one out of every six inmates who suffer mental illness.

The only real way to reduce the inmate population -- and the felon class -- is to ensure that imprisonment is a method of last resort. That means abandoning the mandatory sentencing laws that have filled prisons to bursting with nonviolent offenders who are doomed to remain trapped at the very margins of society.

An editorial from the New York Times

Friday, February 02, 2007

From court fight to caring:

Good intentions, goodwill and a sense of cooperation can do wonders. Florida's new secretary of the Department of Children and Families, Bob Butterworth, has demonstrated that by handling the controversy over mentally ill jail inmates in a way that puts state resources into helping people rather than into protracted court battles. The deal struck between DCF and the local public defender's office bodes well for the beleaguered agency and the vulnerable population it serves.

The situation with mentally incompetent inmates being kept in jail beyond the 15 days allowed by law had reach a crisis level. Under Lucy Hadi, DCF's previous head, there were hundreds of mentally ill inmates being held in local jails for months beyond the legal limit. Some ended up hurting themselves due to lack of proper treatment.

Pinellas-Pasco Public Defender Bob Dillinger had been heroically trying to get the courts to enforce the law, but an intransigent DCF fought back claiming a lack of funds. After a frustrated judge fined Hadi $80,000 and threatened her with jail for noncompliance, wheels started turning and money for additional treatment beds started to be found.

But it took a new administration with a different attitude toward its social responsibilities for the focus to turn from legal battles to helping hands. When Dillinger and Butterworth just happened to cross paths a day before another DCF hearing on the issue, they worked out a settlement that would redirect the $80,000 court fine into early intervention efforts.

Butterworth has promised to bring medical professionals into the Pinellas County Jail before the 15-day limit in order to try to stabilize these inmates. That means some of them would likely qualify for less restrictive community mental health placements, rather than the state's expensive and oversubscribed forensic hospitals. Butterworth plans to use the money saved from $300-per-day hospital stays to continue the program and possibly expand it to the rest of the state.

It appears that Dillinger finally has a partner in state government. Butterworth says that Gov. Charlie Crist is serious about DCF meeting its responsibilities toward Florida's most vulnerable residents. This is a good start. It is amazing what a little goodwill can do.

A St. Petersburg Times Editorial Published February 2, 2007