By Victoria Langley
March 12, 2007 6:55 p.m.
The new law gives judges increased authority to lock up probation violators with a violent past, in hopes of keeping them from committing new crimes.
Probation officers on the front lines think the new law will keep some of the bad guys from slipping through the cracks.
Probation Officer Kelly Ruggles keeps track of up to 23 ex-offenders to make sure they’re following the rules of their release from prison. She supports the anti-murder act, which will now require a violent ex-con who violates probation to go back to jail unless a judge decides they deserve another chance.
Kelly Ruggles said, "If they have violated in some fashion, they’ve already shown that they can’t follow the rules of society or the rules that they’ve been given as part of their community supervision."
Supporters hope the new law will help prevent crimes like the kidnapping and murder of 11-year-old Carlie Brucia. Joseph Smith had violated probation with a drug offense, but was still on the street when he killed Carlie. The new law gives judges the authority to impose maximum prison sentences on violent violators.
Judges will have their work cut out for them under the anti-murder act. Nearly 38,000 murderers, robbers and rapists are already in Florida neighborhoods right now under probation or community control.
Corrections spokesman Robbie Cunningham says the law takes aim at a real crisis. If current trends had continued, 40 percent more murders this year would have been committed by probation violators than last year.
Robbie Cunningham said, "It would hopefully turn that trend around and stop that increase from happening and turn it back the other way."
No law can prevent every crime from happening, but its champions hope the anti-murder act will help authorities do a better job of protecting the innocent.
The governor’s office estimates over the next three years, more than 1,300 ex-cons will be sent back to prison under the anti-murder act at a cost approaching $270 million in five years.