After a Sarasota, Fla., girl was abducted and killing, three Orlando judges spent yesterday morning getting a better understanding of what happens to criminals on probation, says the Orlando Sentinel. The judges were particularly interested in a global positioning system (GPS)that helps probation officers electronically monitor daily movements of 35 to 40 offenders. “All of us have cases where we have to make the tough decision to put someone out on some form of controlled release or put them in prison,” Circuit Judge Bob Wattles said. Increased use of the monitoring system could help judges determine if offenders need to be jailed after violating probation, he said.
Joseph P. Smith, the man charged in the kidnap-killing of 11-year-old Carlie Brucia, violated his probation at least twice but was not sent back to jail.
Wattles said electronic monitoring could have provided Smith’s judge with additional information. “It would have given that judge in that case an added layer of supervision over the defendant,” Wattles said. “I want to know what the warning signs are [for a probation violator] because otherwise I’m flying blind.”
Using electronic bracelets worn by offenders, the computerized system tracks the movement of felons, habitual sex offenders, and stalkers. It displays on a map where the person has spent the hours. Richard Fondo, a correctional probation specialist, said the system costs about $10 per day for each offender.
As Circuit Judge Richard Conrad watched the traced movements of a few offenders, he said, “You can run, but you cannot hide.” The technology, he said, could have a “prophylactic effect” on offenders if they’re aware their every move is being watched.
Gov. Jeb Bush has urged the legislature to review whether the state’s probation laws need to be strengthened to help prevent abductions such as Carlie’s. “We need the Legislature to take a good, hard look at Department of Corrections programs that work,” Wattles said.
The St. Petersburg Times reports that law enforcement officials descended on the state capital yesterday urging key lawmakers to invest $35-million next year in a global positioning system to keep minute-by-minute track of thousands of paroled criminals.
Already running in four Florida counties, the VeriTracks system tracks criminals released from jail or prison and cross-references their locations nightly with criminal activity.
Law enforcers pressed their case with House members and House Speaker Johnnie Byrd. “You don’t have to sell me, I’m sold on it,” Byrd said. It’s not clear whether the $35-million can be found in a tight budget year.