Make us your home page
Instagram

Today’s top headlines delivered to you daily.

(View our Privacy Policy)

State removes murderers from work release centers after Times stories

The Department of Corrections moved convicted murderers out of all of the state's work release centers on Friday and said it will no longer allow them to participate in the program.

The move comes less than a week after the Tampa Bay Times published an investigation about the hundreds of violent felons housed at the facilities.

For years, officials running the minimum security work release centers described the program as a transitional stop for low-level, nonviolent offenders near the end of their sentences.

But the Times found that as of Jan. 31, more than 17 percent of the nearly 4,000 inmates in work release centers committed violent crimes — including 20 murderers.

"All inmates with a current or prior conviction of murder or homicide have been removed from Work Release," DOC Secretary Michael Crews said Friday in a statement. "Inmates with these convictions will be ineligible for participation in Work Release moving forward."

Crews said work release is "one of our most valuable programs for helping inmates nearing the end of their sentence successfully transition from prison back to their community."

But he said a series of incidents — plus complaints from local officials and residents — caused prison officials to review who should be eligible for the program.

About 50 inmates were sent back to prison from work release centers Friday morning, said DOC spokeswoman Ann Howard. The exact crimes committed by all of those 50 inmates were unclear Friday. The Times' tally of 20 murderers did not include people convicted of manslaughter.

The controversy over work release centers began at the Largo Residential Re-entry Center, where two inmates were linked to violent crimes in recent months. One of them, Michael Scott Norris, pleaded guilty this week to killing two workmen inside a St. Petersburg home after he escaped from the center in September.

Scrutiny intensified this week after the Times published its findings about violent inmates housed in work release, which surprised nearby residents who said they were told the facility would house nonviolent prisoners.

The "article and my comments and my vigorous reaction to the one in Largo made them review their policy," said state Sen. Jack Latvala, R-Clearwater. "I think this is the right thing for them to do."

Latvala also complained to prison officials in January after a Times' story chronicled the high number of escapes at the Largo facility. Soon after, state officials conducted an unannounced audit of the center and sent a dozen inmates back to prison for various rule violations. The state also requested that the center, run by Goodwill Industries, tighten its security measures.

Howard said the department takes residents' complaints seriously.

"Their concerns are valid and we intend to work with all communities across the state so they know that keeping them safe is a priority," she said.

The new policy is a reversal for the department.

Just two weeks ago, Deputy DOC Secretary Timothy Cannon said he was not surprised the newspaper found murderers in work release.

"Having a murder charge, per se, does not disqualify someone," he said.

Cannon and Crews told reporters it was important to give both violent and nonviolent offenders the tools to transition back into society.

Crews has said work release is an effective tool for reducing crime because it gives inmates work and other experiences that can help them learn to become law-abiding. Also, he and Cannon stressed in previous interviews that those in work release are about to be released from prison anyway.

The policy change does not mean the department is backing away from the concept of work release. But officials did say they are making changes after recent security lapses at the Largo center.

Gov. Rick Scott has proposed putting all work release inmates on electronic ankle monitors.

Latvala wants to reduce the number of inmates at the Largo center, which is the state's biggest. Largo residents who live near it were happy to hear the department removed murderers from the program, but were skeptical that their problems were over.

"To me it's a knee jerk reaction to bad press," said Carol Dattoli, who lives near the spot where work release inmate Dustin Kennedy is accused of raping a teenager on her way to school in January.

Dattoli said she won't be happy until the center is shut down.

"They've had five years to do this right. I don't feel that means they've cleaned up their act," she said. "They were idiots for having them there in the first place."

Kameel Stanley can be reached at kstanley@tampabay.com; Curtis Krueger at ckrueger@tampabay.com or (727) 893-8232.

State removes murderers from work release centers after Times stories 03/01/13 [Last modified: Friday, May 31, 2013 5:59pm]
Photo reprints | Article reprints

© 2017 Tampa Bay Times

    

Join the discussion: Click to view comments, add yours

Loading...
  1. No. 16 USF hangs on at Tulane, off to first 7-0 start

    College

    NEW ORLEANS — After half a season of mismatches, USF found itself in a grudge match Saturday night.

    USF quarterback Quinton Flowers (9) runs for a touchdown against Tulane during the first half of an NCAA college football game in New Orleans, La., Saturday, Oct. 21, 2017. (AP Photo/Derick E. Hingle) LADH103
  2. Lightning buries Penguins (w/video)

    Lightning Strikes

    TAMPA — Ryan Callahan spent a lot of time last season rehabilitating his injured hip alongside Steven Stamkos, who was rehabbing a knee after season-ending surgery. During those hours, Callahan noticed two things about Stamkos: his hunger and his excitement to return this season.

    Tampa Bay Lightning defenseman Slater Koekkoek (29) advances the puck through the neutral zone during the first period of Saturday???‚??„?s (10/21/17) game between the Tampa Bay Lightning and the Pittsburgh Penguins at Amalie Arena in Tampa.
  3. Spain planning to strip Catalonia of its autonomy

    World

    BARCELONA, Spain — The escalating confrontation over Catalonia's independence drive took its most serious turn Saturday as Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy of Spain announced he would remove the leadership of the restive region and initiate a process of direct rule by the central government in Madrid.

    Demonstrators in Barcelona protest the decision to take control of Catalonia to derail the independence movement.
  4. Funeral held for soldier at center of political war of words (w/video)

    Nation

    COOPER CITY — Mourners remembered not only a U.S. soldier whose combat death in Africa led to a political fight between President Donald Trump and a Florida congresswoman but his three comrades who died with him.

    The casket of Sgt. La David T. Johnson of Miami Gardens, who was killed in an ambush in Niger. is wheeled out after a viewing at the Christ The Rock Church, Friday, Oct. 20, 2017  in Cooper City, Fla. (Pedro Portal/Miami Herald via AP) FLMIH102
  5. Chemical industry insider now shapes EPA policy

    Nation

    WASHINGTON — For years, the Environmental Protection Agency has struggled to prevent an ingredient once used in stain-resistant carpets and nonstick pans from contaminating drinking water.

    This is the Dow chemical plant near Freeport, Texas. Before the 2016 election, Dow had been in talks with the EPA to phase out the pesticide chlorpyrifos, which is blamed for disabilities in children. Dow is no longer willing to compromise.