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Contact: Public Affairs Office
August 27, 2002
St. Petersburg Times
Phil Gailey, Editorial Page
490 First Ave. S.
St. Petersburg, FL 33701
Dear Mr. Gailey:
I must respond to your August 25 article, "Service sentence often unserved." It paints an incomplete picture of how community service fits into Florida's correctional system.
The primary responsibility -- and focus -- of our probation office staff is public safety. This is a difficult and often dangerous job with nearly 30 percent of the more than 153,000 supervised offenders sentenced for serious violent crimes. Our 2400 probation officers do an excellent job of keeping track of offenders, often having to put themselves in dangerous situations to do so. While some offenders may try to avoid their community service obligation, there are many who work hard every day. For example, 10 to 15 offenders are referred to the Sumter County Sheriff's Work Squad each month to help clean roads, paint county buildings, prepare ball fields, and clean up county parks. Offenders in Polk County help stock Salvation Army Thrift Shop shelves. At the Rochelle School of Arts, offenders mow the yard, paint, pick up trash on the playground, and clean the kitchen. And the list goes on.
The Department of Corrections cannot specify the type of work each offender must perform, a fact that seemingly was left out of the article. As long as the offender is bringing in proper documentation of community service work, signed by the appropriate work site supervisor, there generally is no reason to question the work performed. If the probation officer is able to document a violation of this condition of probation, he or she will contact the court, and probation may be revoked.
Quite frankly, there aren't enough hours in the day for our officers to check on the quantity and quality of community service work performed by offenders. Are there offenders who avoid their community service obligation? Probably. Is that a higher priority than making sure a sex offender doesn't attack a child or making sure an offender convicted of DUI manslaughter doesn't drink and drive? I think not.
The department recognizes the significance of community service. We also recognize the necessity of establishing priorities within the realm of limited funding, just as any responsible organization or company would.
Michael W. Moore