Earlier this month, the Polk County Sheriff’s offices conducted a five-day sweep that yielded 272 arrests. Those taken in face, cumulatively, 1,599 felony charges and 1,898 misdemeanor charges.
The initiative was spearheaded by Sheriff Grady Judd and, according to a report in The Ledger, was intended to target individuals who had warrants out for their arrest, were in violation of their probation terms, or were illegally possessing firearms. Tightly organized and swiftly conducted, the Polk County authorities collaborated with other law enforcement agencies in the region to patrol high-risk areas and online communities in their efforts to reign in crime.
More than half of the individuals arrested have previously served time-often for violent crimes. Six of them, notes The Ledger, “had a history of violence against law enforcement officers, five were members of the Warlock motorcycle gang with long histories of arrests and 12 had histories of child abuse.”
In Florida, the arrests of individuals with checkered pasts are not uncommon. Our state maintains a recidivism rate of about 33 percent – that is, one out of three inmates released from prison will be behind bars again within three years. (A study released by the Florida Department of Corrections indicates that the recidivism rate would likely be much higher if the state’s supervision programs were as robust as those in other states.)
Recidivism is, of course, a major problem – both in Florida and nationwide. It costs nearly $20,000 annually to house an inmate in prison, and repeat offenders figure as a major component of Florida’s $3 billion annual corrections budget. There are, moreover, less tangible costs that imprisonment imposes on individuals’ families and communities. And many lawyers and advocacy groups avow that individuals who have served time – and paid their societal debt – are unfairly targeted by police.
To avoid jail, avoid misconduct
Yet, at least in Polk County, the only way to stay out of prison is to stop committing crimes. And many of those arrested in the recent sting failed to comply with this basic tenet. One individual had been arrested 47 times, been to jail three times, and was presently picked up for armed robbery with a firearm and battery. Five others were implicated in the severe beating of a man in a bar fight. Still others were caught red-handed while trafficking drugs or stealing from retail stores.
When asked if prison reform might lead to reduced recidivism rates, Sheriff Judd was skeptical. “Do I think the criminal justice system needs to be reformed?” he asked. “What do you want to reform about that?” Referring to the repeat offenders, he added, “We already are a forgiving system.”