Last month, Tampa was gripped by the shocking killings of two police officers and the subsequent manhunt of suspected killer Dontae Morris, who was booked at Hillsborough County’s Orient Road Jail.
But Morris is not the only inmate at that jail. Incarcerated with him are hundreds of others. Some stand accused of heinous crimes, but many are jailed for infractions that are relatively trivial.
An “ROR” – release on recognizance – is a lower level punishment that’s cheaper for the county and easier on suspects. Since November, Pinellas County has released more than 3,000 inmates before they ever stepped foot in a jail cell, according to the St. Petersburg Times.
This program does not simply put random criminals back on the streets. There’s a process to determine eligibility, which acts as a much-needed safeguard in carrying out ROR. Some of the criteria includes severity of previous offenses and ties in the community that would deter a person from fleeing.
“We wanted to make sure we’re maximizing all of the avenues we have to keep jail population in a manageable range,” said Pinellas County Jail Chief Deputy Bob Gualtieri of implementing the jail’s ROR policy.
Why is it that someone arrested for, say, driving on a suspended license, is forced to go through the same laborious incarceration process as a man police believe murdered two cops? After all, that traffic offense normally calls for only a written ticket.
County jail is not exactly a Club Med resort.
Over several hours or sometimes longer, an inmate will be fingerprinted and photographed, checked medically and changed into orange scrubs. The thin scrubs seem tailor-made to intensify the biting cold of the jail.
After the process is complete, inmates are sent to cell blocks, where they wait, hoping that someone comes to post bail.
Regardless of their alleged crime, all inmates in Hillsborough go through this process. However, in Pinellas, the trivial, demeaning and expensive is reserved for only those who need to be there.
Each person in jail costs Pinellas $126 a day and contributes to overcrowding. By releasing prisoners who pose little or no threat to the community, the county stands to save $1 million by year’s end, according to the Times.
If Hillsborough granted more RORs, it would cut down on its prison population and save a significant amount of money.
The real crime here, though, is that otherwise upstanding citizens arrested for violations like driving on a suspended license are forced to rub shoulders with accused killers like Morris. It almost seems cruel and unusual.
Hillsborough should adopt the policy of granting more RORs for the benefit of all involved.
Vincent DeFrancesco is a junior majoring in mass communications.