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Playing chain gang politics

The current debate on how to implement Florida's 1990s version of the chain gang is more than a failure to communicate. It is, in fact, a failure on the part of state Sen. Charlie Crist, R-St. Petersburg, to understand that corrections officials are not required to help him choreograph this issue for political gain.

Crist, in the final hours of the legislative session, pushed through an amendment to revive chain gangs. After he and Corrections Secretary Harry Singletary went to Alabama to study that state's chain gangs, the two have been arguing about whether prisoners should be chained individually or shackled together in groups.

Crist insists that the term chain gang means "people chained together." That may be true, but Crist's job as a legislator is to pass law _ not to give orders to Singletary, a professional who has spent his entire career locking up criminals. Singletary has good reasons for wanting to chain prisoners individually, and lawmakers should at least listen to him.

Crist's campaign to chain prisoners together in groups is for political show, and Singletary is right to resist. "We will not make it a media circus," he said. "We will not chain inmates to each other but will shackle their ankles individually."

As a professional, Singletary understands that, while the spectacle of prisoners chained together on the highway makes the voting public feel good, such dehumanization creates profound anger in the very people he must release back into society after they have served their sentences.

Reaching into the past and reviving chain gangs is typical of the Legislature's backward-looking philosophy on crime and punishment.

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