Union challenges corrections’ cutback on home visits to offendersby Dara Kam | March 27th, 2012
State corrections officials did not go through the proper process when they stopped most home visits with criminals on probation or community control, the union representing corrections workers is alleging in a complaint filed today.
Lawyers for the Teamsters, which represents prison guards and probation and community control workers, are accusing Department of Corrections Secretary Ken Tucker and his staff of changing the number of visits without seeking a rule change, they argued in an administrative complaint filed today.
Union representatives say the new policy is unsafe and that probation officers have found guns, drugs and other illegal activity when visiting offenders’ homes.
“We know that home visits are critical to keeping our citizens safe, whether it’s in their home, at work or at school. The safety of our citizens is paramount,” Teamsters lobbyist Ron Silver said in a statement.
Tucker and his staff late last month ordered probation and community control officers to stop conducting face-to-face visits with most offenders in part to deal with a $79 million budget deficit.
Tucker’s order effectively changed the rules regarding offender supervision but he did not go through the rule-making process, the complaint argued.
And even if he had gone through the rule-making process, the new policy would still be illegal, Teamsters lawyer Holly Van Horsten said Tuesday, because it does not comply with what Florida law requires regarding field visits. They’re asking the administrative law judge to order the department to go back to the old visit schedule.
DOC officials would not respond to the complaint but said they were continuing to visit sex offenders and offenders on community control.
And offenders are still required to meet with their probation officers in the office, department spokeswoman Jo Ellyn Racleff said in an e-mail.
But “other measures will be taken to verify the inmate residence and employment, without having to visit their residence,” Racleff said.
And supervisors can order face-to-face visits with probationers considered a threat to public safety or suspected of violating their probation, DOC spokeswoman Ann Howard said.
“If there’s an order from the court that the person be drug-tested, we’ll continue to do that. Anything the court has ordered, we’re going to continue,” Howard said. “The idea of compromising safety is a bad one. We’re not going to do that.”
Probation and community control officers will be “doing less driving” to save money, Howard said.
“But probationers need to know they will continue to be monitored. We’re not compromising public safety,” she said.