Going almost unnoticed in the talk about millions and billions bouncing around Tallahassee these days is a matter of thousands that is worth noting.
The Florida Department of Corrections has quietly acknowledged that it will change its procedures for keeping tabs on former inmates on probation and parole.
The change, which will take the form of fewer visits to some parolees, will save in excess of $400,000 for the remainder of the current fiscal year, which ends June 30, according to Ann Howard, public affairs director of the DOC.
Whether the practice of curbing visits continues into the next fiscal year depends on the DOC’s portion of the state budget being finalized by legislators, Howard said.
The change is a small part of the DOC’s strategy to cover a $79 million shortfall in its current fiscal year budget of more than $2 billion. Medical costs for the year have been higher than anticipated and some facilities scheduled for closure stayed open longer than planned, Howard, said, citing two reasons for the budget cutting now.
Other cost cutting measures include consolidating facilities, shifting some guards to a 12-hour work schedule and even renegotiating the department’s contract for toilet paper, which netted a savings of $800,000. “That’s how deep we’re digging,” Howard said.
Statewide, the department monitors about 115,000 people on some form of probation or community control.
More than 7,000 of them are in the 20th Judicial Circuit which includes Collier and Lee counties.
Howard assures that sex offenders and other serious offenders will continue to receive unannounced visits from probation officers. Howard declined to say how often parolees were visited under the previous system and how often they’ll be visited under the new guidelines. “That’s something we never discuss,” she said.
Parolees convicted of less serious crimes may not be visited regularly, but Howard says, “We’ll still come by if we have a suspicion or a concern. We don’t want anyone to think, ‘Well, I’m off probation.”’
The savings realized by the change will mostly come through fuel costs. No probation officers are being laid off, Howard said. “We are working diligently to avoid that,” she said.
Public safety won’t be diminished by the change in monitoring, Howard promises.
Locally, prosecutors give the idea a less-than-ringing endorsement. “We are aware of the budget situation they are facing and we know they have said that they will be able to meet these cuts without compromising public safety. We hope that is the case,” said Randy McGruther, chief assistant state attorney for the region.