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Breaking the cycle of repeat offenses

Posted at 11:36 PM, Apr 09, 2021

CAPE CORAL, FLA — Policing and the push to improve it, is heavy on the minds of many, especially now.

One major criticism is that law enforcement is heavy-handed and over-policing communities and people for non-violent crimes over and over.

The Florida Sheriff's Research Institute recently hit back against that claim, with this report.

In it, they say that data shows that many of their "repeat offenders," especially those with drug charges have a history of violence.

The report also claims the Florida Department of Corrections offers services to help "rehab" those folks.

David Thomas is a Florida Gulf Coast University professor and a former police officer and he says repeat offenses, when drugs are involved, are typically not surprising.

"You have to recognize that if I have a drug problem then more than likely unless there's some divine intervention, I am probably going to commit multiple crimes to feed my habit," he said.

But he adds that what is surprising, is how our criminal justice system handles drug crimes and those who commit them.

"We continue to punish people for drug crimes. To me, a drug crime is worse than murder. And I can speak personally to that because my son was arrested and charged with possession of cocaine," he said.

Thomas says his son served his time, but the "punishment" didn't end when he was done.

"It took my son about seven years to kind of turn that corner," he said.

For Lance Wissinger it wasn't drugs, but a deadly DUI crash years ago for which he served four years.

"When you hear the term felon, you generally don't picture some like me, you picture what you see on tv, what you see in the movies," he said, "I made a mistake years ago and I still have a life sentence from that because that continues to follow me to this day."

His colleague Neil Volz of the Florida Rights Restoration Coalition served time on a felony conviction and says in order to rehabilitate people who end up behind bars, and stop the cycle of repeat offenses, you've got to start by asking these questions.

"We think it's important to inspect the entire process and focus on the real lives of people and ask questions like 'How do people get incarcerated in the first place? What's the experience like while you're on the inside or on community supervision? How do you reintegrate into the community?" he said.

Volz and Wissinger say that the solution to many of the problems these questions will raise are rehab programs, which despite what the report says, are often hard to find in and out of corrections facilities.

"A lot of the programs that are offered now are being cut or they're just a skeleton of what they'd been before," said Wissinger.

And all three men say if we as a society hope to break a cycle that is both a "people" and "public safety" issue we're all going to have to change the way we think about crime and punishment.

"We have to kind of relearn what needs to be done," said Thomas.