Florida's Technical Violators: How They're Affecting State's Prison Population

Jul 29, 2016

Credit MGN Online

The number of people returning to prison based on technical violations has contributed to an uptick in this year’s new prison admissions. Looking for solutions to that problem came up during this year’s legislative session and is a priority for the head of the Florida Department of Corrections.

The good news is Florida’s prison population is just under 100,000—a bit lower than predicted.

“The estimated population for June 2016 was 99, 270, whereas the actual population is 99, 119—for a negative .2-percent error,” said Matthew Hasbrouck, recently at a Criminal Justice Estimating Conference meeting.

But, Hasbrouck says the reason the predictions were a bit off when it came to new prison admissions was due to what’s called “technical violations.” He focuses on criminal justice issues within the state’s Office of Economic and Demographic Research (EDR).

“If you look at the new commitments, where we had an estimated 29, 404…the actual new commitments for fiscal year 2015-2016 were 29, 635 for a 0.8 percent error,” he added. “So, the error in new commitments weren’t as high as for total admissions. Now, this was due to an uptick in the conditional and control release offenders that returned to prison with technical violations.”

So, what’s considered a technical violation? During this past legislative Session, Incoming Senate President Joe Negron had a few examples.

“A technical violation would be someone who’s supposed to over a weekend remain at home,” said Negron, at the time. “And, they’re supposed to be home from 7 to 7, and it’s 7:02 and they happen to be in the driveway, and they’re two minutes late. A technical violation would be, they were supposed to make a $30 a month restitution payment, and it’s due on the first of the month, but they didn’t have the money on the first, so they paid it on the second…those kinds of things…things that are technical in the probation order.”

At the time, some Florida lawmakers weren’t too happy about sending former offenders back to prison on minor infractions. So, they decided to do something about it. Rep. Ross Spano (R-Dover) was one of them.

“In 2012, the Department of Corrections adopted a new Alternative Sanctioning Program to reduce recidivism through collaboration between courts, probation officers, and law enforcement, and the program has now been adopted in 12 counties within six judicial circuits,” said Spano, during the bill's last House committee hearing. “This bill would codify that Alternative Sanctioning Program to give a framework for each circuit to adopt the program, if the chief judge in that circuit so chooses. Essentially, the program allows the chief judge or the circuit in consultation with the state Attorney, the public defender, and the Department of Corrections to establish a program to address these technical violations.”

Spano said his bill would not only reduce the prisoner population, but it could also speed up the court process for these probationers who otherwise could be awaiting a hearing while behind bars. He added there are other advantages as well.

“A technical violation: failure to appear on time for an appointment with a probation officer,” Spano continued. “An example of a sanction in that instance would be more frequent reporting: So, instead of reporting once a month, you would report three times a month or once a week. So, that would be an example of one of the types of sanctions. So, they differ.”

Spano’s bill passed both the House and Senate and Governor Rick Scott signed it into law. And, Florida Department of Corrections Secretary Julie Jones says she’s very proud of the new law that just took effect as it was one of her top legislative priorities.

“We think it’s going to be an important move to start reduce technical violations for probationers coming back to prison, keep them in community where they can continue to get a job, have a paycheck, pay victim restitution, pack back the cost to the court, be with their families, and be closer to the endgame for them to keep them in community and keep them from violating again,” said Jones, months ago.

But, the Alternative Sanctioning Program is voluntary. And, under the new law, a judge also has the discretion to reject the lesser penalty.

For more news updates, follow Sascha Cordner on Twitter: @SaschaCordner.