Saturday, December 27, 2008

Judge focuses on jail crowding, reforms


A senior Florida judge soon will meet individually with Brevard County commissioners about chronic jail overcrowding in Sharpes.

In July, Charles Edelstein submitted a 115-page report citing criminal-justice changes that may alleviate cramped conditions at the 1,701-bed Brevard County Jail Complex.

Inmates filed a federal class-action lawsuit in 1983 -- but overcrowding remains unresolved a quarter-century later.

The jail routinely exceeds its inmate capacity: Average monthly population was 1,802 last year, records show.

By a 4-1 vote earlier this month, the commission decided to contract with Edelstein for up to $5,000 in jail-crowding consulting services. He will travel to Brevard from his Miami office and brief newly elected commissioners Andy Anderson, Robin Fisher and Trudie Infantini.

Edelstein will earn $100 an hour, which includes travel expenses. The contract extends through Jan. 31.

Infantini cast the sole no vote. Saying the county shelled out more than $400,000 for outside legal counsel last year, she wanted in-house attorneys to brief her instead.

"I don't need the author of any book to tell me what it says in the book. You should be able to read it, and another attorney can communicate that," Infantini said.

However, County Attorney Scott Knox said Edelstein has done similar jail-crowding studies across the country, and he knows "intimate details" his staffers do not.

Commissioner Mary Bolin backed the contract. She said she was impressed during a previous meeting with Edelstein.

"He is unbiased. He came into my office, and told me the facts, Jack. And I didn't agree with him. I violently opposed a lot of the issues he was coming forward with," Bolin said. "But that was his job -- to tell me the truth, and the way it should be."

Edelstein's report, "Overcrowding at the Brevard County Jail: Assessments and Recommendations," spawned four committees that are meeting in private under federal mediation guidelines.

Contact Neale at 242-3638 or

Additional Facts
Why is the jail overcrowded?

Failure to promptly resolve criminal cases.

Not enough inmates released during the pretrial portion of their criminal cases.

Most inmates booked for probation violations with new charges are held without bond.

Too many inmates booked for technical probation violations, such as failure to pay fines, are jailed until the matter is resolved.

Too many inmates booked for failure to appear in court are jailed until the case is closed.
-- "Overcrowding at the Brevard County Jail: Assessments and Recommendations" by Charles Edelstein


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