Thursday, July 31, 2008

Manatee to try a new alternative to jail

MANATEE -- The county's final property-tax revenues, a bit higher than expected, will go mostly into contingency accounts and for a pilot program to allow nonviolent criminals to pay to stay out of jail.
Manatee officials Wednesday spent much of the afternoon putting the finishing touches on next year's $531 million budget. Specifically, they rehashed a list of topics that were "flagged" for more information during a series of budget talks in June.

A slight jump in property values led to an additional $743,000 for the county. Almost half of it will go to the Palmetto Community Redevelopment Agency because that city had much of the higher values. A new set of probation fees will net another $200,000 for the county.

The additional revenues enable the county to spend $155,000 to begin an offender work program. Nonviolent offenders could avoid jail time by agreeing to pay a daily amount or by performing manual labor around the county.

"They're paying to stay out of jail as long as they're doing everything they're supposed to," said Commissioner Ron Getman. "The theory is to reduce overcrowding at the jail without putting a financial burden on the county. It will reduce the number of prisoners in jail and it's a source of revenue."

Getman, a former Florida Highway Patrol troop commander and a member of the Public Safety Coordinating Council, is championing the program. He said it will help prolong the life of the county jail and stave off expensive plans for expansion.

The county will pay money up front for vehicles and additional guard time to watch over the working prisoners, but in the future, officials think fee-paying criminals will offset annual operating costs.

From the Bradenton Herald published July 31, 2008