SARASOTA, Fla. (WFLA) – Faith leaders in Sarasota County have been advocating for changes to the criminal justice system that would prevent adults from being branded for life with an arrest record for non-violent crimes.
“People do come back to society and they’re very productive,” Riccardo Ivery said.
Ivery told News Channel 8 he has lived with the stigma of spending 120 days in jail for a drug-related charge 18 years ago.
“Paid my fines and fees and when I got out its just kind of made life hard for me,” he said, “as far as employment wasn’t that bad, but just finding a place to stay.”
Ivery shared his story at a public meeting Tuesday night at the First Congregational Church hosted by Sarasota United for Responsibility and Equity.
The collation of faith leaders have been urging 12th Judicial Circuit State Attorney Ed Brodsky to create an adult pre-arrest program for first-time, non-violent offenders. Similar criminal justice reform programs already exist in Hillsborough and Pinellas County.
“We would like to rather see it handled as a civil citation,” Rev. Wayne Farrell said. “That does not mean its amnesty. That does not mean one is not held accountable.”
State Attorney Brodsky told the packed church he plans to start an adult civil citation program that includes misdemeanor offenses such as driving with a suspended license.
“I think there’s a real need for it,” Brodsky said.
But there is a disagreement over how to pay for the program. Members of SURE said it should be free like in Pinellas County. The fee is $50 in Hillsborough County.
“If no fee, a very small fee,” Rev. Farrell said.
Brodsky’s proposal would charge people $165 to participate.
“Should the law-abiding tax-paying citizens of Sarasota County, should they foot the bill for this program or should it be those that break the law,” he said outside the meeting.
Brodsky said the program would include a period of supervision and an education class related to the crime committed.
Members of SURE plan to continue conversations with him in hopes of lowering the price to participate.
Before the program can launch, Brodsky said law enforcement agencies would need training.
He did not have a start date during the meeting, but told News Channel 8 he hopes it is up and running by the end of the year.