Group to look at 'top 20' offenders


Published: Thursday, January 31, 2008 at 6:01 a.m.
Last Modified: Thursday, January 31, 2008 at 12:02 a.m.

Eight people, repeatedly arrested over a two-year period, served approximately 2,900 days at the Alachua County jail for a cost of almost $200,000, a recent study showed.

Those are figures a group including law enforcement and court officials are hoping to prevent in the future.

A subcommittee with the county's Public Safety Coordinating Council will begin looking at a list of "top 20" people who have been repeatedly arrested to see what can be done to prevent their return to jail and to reduce jail overcrowding.

"Incarceration does not send to them a message to change their behavior," said Alachua County Sheriff Sadie Darnell, who chairs the subcommittee. "They need to be targeted and moved into court services programs that a judge oversees or into treatment programs for addictions and behavior modification."

Circuit Judge Martha Ann Lott came up with the idea to look at repeat offenders charged with misdemeanor offenses at the jail, Darnell said.

The preliminary study showing the impact that chronic recidivists or repeat offenders can have on the jail looked at eight inmates, the Sheriff's Office reported. They had been primarily jailed for misdemeanor crimes and ordinance violations.

A group - which included jail staff and attorneys, plus representatives from the court system and Meridian Behavioral Health Services - found three main characteristics among the eight, including issues with personality disorders, addiction to drugs, alcohol or both, and homelessness. They had been booked into the jail a total of 127 times during the two-year period and were incarcerated 2,925 days.

Based on the study's findings, Darnell said the subcommittee decided to develop the list of chronic recidivists. These names will be flagged and, if the person reappears at the jail, judges will be alerted so these cases can be targeted for appropriate court and treatment programs.

Overcrowding at the jail has been a longstanding issue.

The facility now has 980 beds, following two renovations completed last year, according to the Sheriff's Office. Due to issues with housing certain types of inmates, however, the optimum number of people the jail should accommodate is 833. The facility has regularly held more than 1,000 inmates in the past.

The jail population has dropped over the past four months to an average monthly figure ranging from 852 to 976, according to numbers provided by the Sheriff's Office. The agency has attributed that drop in part to an increased emphasis on using court diversion programs for offenders and efforts by law enforcement to issue notices to appear in court in appropriate cases instead of making a physical arrest.

Lise Fisher can be reached at 352-374-5092 or fisherl@gvillesun.com.

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