By Deirdra Funcheon, Juvenile Justice Information Exchange
BRADENTON, Fla. —Criminal justice reformers say that letting very sick inmates out of prison early would be a sensible way to relieve pressure on Florida’s overburdened corrections system, and on taxpayers, who will pony up nearly half a billion dollars in 2020 for prisoners’ health care.
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 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.