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Gray haired man sitting on bunk in prison cell

By Deirdra Funcheon, for Juvenile Justice Information Exchange

MIAMI — An hour south of Miami, down the street from an alligator farm, a security guard buzzes visitors into the Homestead Correctional Institution. Each guest’s bags are run through a rickety metal detector and he or she is issued a panic button — a portable alarm that can be clipped to a waistband and pressed if an inmate attacks.

The visitation room looks like an elementary school cafeteria, its concrete-block walls painted with murals of Marvel superheroes and Minions. As soon as Marian Dolce slides into her plastic chair, flashing a warm smile, it’s obvious the panic button won’t be needed. She’s wearing light blue scrubs. Her white hair is in a jaunty ponytail atop her head. She says she just got a new “bunkie” — a cellmate. She comes off as downright girlish for a 66-year-old murderer.

Michael Mills (left) and his attorney Finley Williams outside the Duval County courthouse in Jacksonville, Fla. Mills’ cellphone data got charges against him dropped — six months after he was arrested. He would have been in jail all that time had he not been able to afford his bail.
Michael Mills (left) and his attorney Finley Williams outside the Duval County courthouse in Jacksonville, Fla. Mills’ cellphone data got charges against him dropped — six months after he was arrested. He would have been in jail all that time had he not been able to afford his bail.

By Claire Goforth

Michael Mills had run-ins with the law in his younger, wilder days. Now he is 43, an automotive repairman and father of four who lives in Baldwin, Fla., a quasi-independent municipality in Jacksonville. He thought that was all far behind him until he was arrested in September 2018 on felony charges of impersonating a police officer.

As a small business owner, he had the means to pay a bail bonds company $1,500, representing the standard, nonrefundable 10% portion of his $15,000 bond that such businesses charge, to secure release the day of his arrest, and was able to afford a private attorney. The state later reduced the charge to a misdemeanor, which didn’t affect bond because he’d already paid.