June 19, 2008
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Contact: Public Affairs Office
Tallahassee -- The Florida Department of Corrections’ (DC) Absconder Unit, working with probation officers throughout the state, has reduced the number of absconders from probation by 33.4% over the last two and a half years. In February 2006, there were 44,020 offenders who had absconded from probation and failed to report to their probation officers, and by May 30, 2008, that number had been reduced to 29,322 and continues to fall. There are currently 193,607 offenders on active community supervision in Florida.
The reduction can be attributed to several factors: a stepped-up campaign to publicly identify these offenders and encourage the public to turn them in; stronger partnerships between the DC and local law enforcement, state and federal agencies; and increased hands on involvement of probation officers who investigate leads on their absconder cases and then coordinate apprehension efforts.
“We have gone from being reactive to proactive when it comes to pursing absconders,” according to Director of Community Corrections Bruce Grant. “Where in the past we would respond when an absconder was located, now we go looking for them through numerous databases and our tip lines. It’s been very successful.”
The DC has formed partnerships with the Department of Children and Families, the Department of Highway Safety and Motor Vehicles, the Social Security Administration, Agency for Workforce Innovation, Immigration and Customs Enforcement, and the Department of Veteran’s Affairs, among others. In each case, they share data to determine addresses and locations of suspected absconders, looking for matches. As a result, the absconder unit receives leads on the whereabouts of various absconders and forwards the information to probation officers throughout the state who initiate the arrests.
The DC is also pursuing absconders through cyberspace via the Department’s website, which concentrates on locating high profile absconders like sex offenders and sexual predators on its “Have You Seen Me?” link, which the public can view at www.dc.state.fl.us. Since its inception in 2006, 55 of these offenders have been recaptured. The most successful site for catching absconders is the absconder/fugitive information search feature on the DC’s website at www.dc.state.fl.us/Absconder/. Here, the public can input the names of suspected absconders and view their picture online, and contact authorities at email@example.com or call (850) 410-3437 if they find a match.
Five to 10 absconder tip phone calls and 15-20 emails, primarily from family members of the absconder, come in each day from the website.
“We get a lot of tips from boyfriends and girlfriends, and we have to move fast,” said Brian Howell, one of five Absconder Unit members. “We see a lot of mothers turning their kids in hopes by turning them in they will be able to get help with drug or alcohol addictions.”
The five-member Absconders Unit, located in Tallahassee, works closely with correctional probation officers in the field, local and national sheriff offices and police departments, sharing tips and leads on the whereabouts of offenders who have absconded.