Tuesday, June 19, 2018
Editorials

Work-release site needs closer oversight

This is the sort of list where being first is worst. For three straight years, a Largo work-release facility has ranked tops in the state for escapes, and some inmates have been charged with committing violent crimes. The state Department of Corrections should thoroughly investigate and require better oversight. Even work-release facilities should keep a better eye on their inmates than this.

Goodwill Industries operates the Largo Residential Re-Entry Center on U.S. 19, which holds 280 inmates and is the largest work-release center in the state. This is not a secure prison. The facility houses work-release inmates who are near the end of their time in state custody and preparing to re-enter the outside world. They leave the center to go to work, but they are supposed to be supervised and they are not allowed to be out pursuing other interests such as recreation. They also cannot have their own vehicles or cellphones.

Yet the Tampa Bay Times' Curtis Krueger and Kameel Stanley reported that for three straight years the center has had more than two dozen escapes — inmates who did not return on time. That suggests a lack of supervision, and at least two inmates who had escaped or violated rules have been charged with violent crimes in recent months.

Dustin Kennedy, 28, was arrested last week at the work-release center and charged with attacking and sexually assaulting a 17-year-old girl as she walked to her Clearwater bus stop. Kennedy had returned to the center on time and was not considered an escapee, but law enforcement officials said he had two cellphones belonging to his victim when he was arrested. Michael Scott Norris escaped from the center in September, regularly visited a St. Petersburg gym and has been charged with killing two men in St. Petersburg's Kenwood neighborhood.

Goodwill Industries officials have been told by the Department of Corrections to let the state agency do all the talking. But Goodwill has some explaining to do to the community and should be responding to concerns about its oversight of the inmates it houses. Scripted statements from the Department of Corrections in Tallahassee are neither helpful nor reassuring.

Work release should mean what it says: the monitored release of low-risk inmates for work only. Just because the Largo work-release center is the state's largest does not mean it should regularly lead the state in escapes. The Department of Corrections should demand better, and Goodwill should detail exactly what steps it will take to keep its state contract.

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