Monday, May 14, 2012

Florida: 30,000 Convicted Felons are on the Lam; State Says: ‘No Biggie’

Age progression photos of Florida fugitive Fred Barrett, convicted murderer…

In Florida, 30,000 offenders flee supervision
By Linda Trischitta
February 4, 2012
Sun Sentinel

After searching for 32 years, the Florida Department of Corrections finally caught up with convicted murderer Frederick Barrett at a remote Colorado cabin in 2011.

But finding him was the exception. Nearly 30,000 offenders, about 5,600 of them violent, are currently missing from state supervision, some since the 1970s. The majority walked away from work camps, work release programs or stopped calling a probation officer. Others may have died and their families did not notify authorities.

The department says it makes every effort to find them through checks of the probation system, hospitals, jails, death records and at offenders' homes, jobs and with families and friends. It also publishes profiles of the missing on its website, and accepts anonymous tips to forward to police.

"We look for everyone and are doing the best we can to find everyone," said Ann Howard, a Florida Department of Corrections spokeswoman. "Taxpayers don't want us wasting money. They want us to be smart, to use resources wisely and protect them. And we take all of that seriously."

Most of those missing (23,674) are men.

"Women, liquor and drugs seem to be the most common reasons for fleeing," said Paula Bryant, another Corrections spokeswoman.

Some, like convicted burglar Shawn Washington, return on their own. Washington left an outside job Nov. 4 and did not return to his West Palm Beach work release center until the following morning, the state says. He was returned to prison for his absence.

Others, like Jerome Glinton, 21, simply disappear. He was sentenced to probation for felony battery and a warrant was issued for him in October. His last known location was in Broward County.

"We hope people realize these folks are out there and may be their neighbors and will call law enforcement," Howard said.

Many are rearrested within hours, while others are gone for decades, the state says. Barrett, for example, escaped Union Correctional Institution in Raiford by climbing three fences during a power outage. Officials say he killed traveling companion Carl Ardolino by beating and drowning him near Florida's Turnpike.

Although they are unaccounted for, most escapees are not a threat to residents, said Howard.

"If there was imminent danger, we'd work with law enforcement to let the general public know what was going on and warn them to lock their doors and windows," she said. "I want to make it clear that law enforcement cares, the Department of Corrections cares, and public safety is a major priority."

Prisoners escape Florida's 140 institutions, work camps and work release programs every year. It's much better than in fiscal year 1989–1990, when 1,064 offenders fled. That number fell to 87 escapees in 1999-2000 but it's on the rise again.

During fiscal year 2010-2011, 167 escaped all types of facilities, including two from a work detail on the perimeter of a high security prison. The same year, 156 were recaptured, including offenders missing from prior years, officials said.

TheU.S. Department of Justice's Bureau of Justice Statistics says it's difficult to compare Florida to states that may not include walkaways from work release as escapes, or even report when inmates flee.

Every state has to cope with escapees, said Martin Horn, professor at John Jay College of Criminal Justice and a former New York City corrections commissioner.

"If some are from the 1940s, it's hard to say if it's a bad number," Horn said. "Some of these are like Jean Valjean from Les Miserables, living in the community, leading conventional lives and are not a threat to anyone. And we know that because they are not being re-arrested."

He's not suggesting escapees should get amnesty.

"One of these guys will shoot a cop and there will be hell to pay," Horn said.

In Florida, work-release candidates cannot be sex offenders, have a history of escapes or have more than 14 months to serve.

Horn supports work release programs even though they are easier to walk away from, because keeping offenders in prison is much more expensive and does not help people reform.

"The question is: Are reasonable decisions being made by judges or is the paroling authority making good decisions about work release candidates?" Horn said. "Even so, they aren't God and can't always predict prisoner behavior."

Which may be why Glinton and his peers are still at large.

Staff researcher Barbara Hijek contributed to this report., 954-356-4233 or Twitter @LindaTrischitta

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