As an advocate for an individual who was caught up in this revolving door, I have seen in person the horribly flawed workings of the court system. I will digress here to mention a positive possibility for a person caught up in the revolving door. There are few paths one can take to extricate one’s self, but they do exist. The Salvation Army ( there may be others) will work with an individual through a “probation officer.” I won’t criticize this program because I may not use the correct terminology and am not that learned in their challenges, but it seems to be they are overworked and understaffed. One facet of/ or a program is their administration of a community service, where an individual can do work for an approved organization to earn credits to comply with court orders/costs. That does not help much for a person with no transportation or driver’s license, but some can get rides from family and friends or the organizations who are willing to give them work for community service.
Back to the revolving door.
During the court session the lawbreakers were individually questioned about any progress since the last appearance. In most cases there was little or no progress, they had violated the last agreement between the judge and the lawbreaker. They had been ordered back to court to explain.
One in particular summed up the usual predicament, (not verbatim, not sure of complete remembrance to put in quotation) Your Honor, if I have no driver’s license and no transportation to get to a job, how can I come up with the money to pay on my court costs. It was less of a request for a judicial answer and more of a statement. Anyway, it is not incumbent upon the judge to explain that; he is only following the provisions of the statutes of the state of Florida. But that is of no consolation to the lawbreaker who agrees to come up with money for court costs in 60 days in return for being released back into the community where he/she has no driver’s license, no job and no transportation to a job if he/she had one and can only look forward to a warrant for his/her appearance in court for not complying with his/her agreement. Meanwhile, court costs, fines, penalties, etc. add up into the hundreds, sometimes thousands of dollars.
I don’t have a solution, short of the aforementioned change to the Florida Constitution, but I do know of a church that has provided some hours of community service work. Maybe that is a source of help, at least to make an awareness of the problem that will bring to light ideas and/or pressure to change the constitution. In the church directory published one day a week in this newspaper, there are 60-plus churches and/or houses of worship in Highlands County. I assume they want to reach out to offer hope.
One last item, thanks to Mr. Dunn-Rankin for his publishing this bi-partisan issue.
Timothy Wheaton is a resident of Sebring. Guest columns are the opinion of the writer, not necessarily that of the Highlands News-Sun.