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Florida Frees 200 More Inmates; Victims Are Alerted to Releases

March 18, 1997|From Associated Press

TALLAHASSEE, Fla. — Florida freed 200 more prisoners before their sentences were up Monday, less than a week after it let 300 inmates out early in one of the largest releases of violent offenders in state history.

"As much as the good guys try to win, it seems the criminal gets the upper hand," said Atty. Gen. Bob Butterworth, whose efforts to keep the inmates in prison were rejected by the U.S. Supreme Court.

The releases caused a renewed outcry among law enforcement officials. Manatee County Sheriff Charlie Wells said he was alerted that some of those released Monday were from his county. Most were in prison on drug, robbery or theft charges, but Wells was also watching for Robert Watkins, who was sentenced to 30 years for murder in 1987.

State corrections officials have been warning local police about the 500 freed convicts, and phoning victims who wanted to be told whenever their attackers went free.

Each year, about 22,000 Florida inmates complete their sentences and are released--about 423 a week. That includes 8,000 violent offenders--about 150 a week.

The recent releases, which are in addition to the normal releases, result from a U.S. Supreme Court ruling last month that said the state could not revoke automatic "gain time" granted to inmates to relieve prison overcrowding in the 1980s.

In addition to freeing the 500 prisoners, the ruling shortened the sentences of 2,200 other inmates. About one-third had their sentences shortened by six months to a year, and a few inmates had as much as seven years lopped off.

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