Pubdate: Tue, 29 Apr 2008
Source: Miami Herald (FL)
Copyright: 2008 The Miami Herald
Author: Charles D. Edelstein, Senior judge, 11th Judicial Circuit, Miami


Re the April 27 editorial One-way approach to crime has limits: When I
joined the Dade state attorney's office in 1965, I was the 33rd
assistant state attorney. We faced seven public defenders, only one of
whom was full time. There were three judges who handled all noncapital
felonies and misdemeanor arrests made by the sheriff's office. We also
represented the state in 11 traffic courtrooms. The jail had 660 beds
for a Dade County population of about 900,000.

We now have about 300 prosecutors and almost 200 public defenders. The
jail is full with more than 7,000 inmates. Twenty-seven
criminal-division judges share the same justice building we occupied
in 1965, along with most of the 16 crimes-division judges and a host
of part-time traffic magistrates. A few years ago the
domestic-violence division was created. It now has seven judges.

The county's current population is about 2.4 million. At the state
level, Florida's prisons are usually in the top five in the country
for per-capita incarceration.

I and others have participated in several jail-overcrowding
action-research projects. We know from experience and the relevant
literature that rarely can a jurisdiction build all the jail beds it

The editorial described some ways to deal with crime other than
incarceration. State Sen. Victor Crist, in advising state attorneys,
said in the April 1 Florida Bar Newspaper: ''You guys are going to have
to do a better job of who you choose to prosecute.'' Perhaps better use
can be made of expensive and scarce jail beds.

Kids in the Juvenile Detention Center were interviewed this month and
said that part of the reason they got into trouble was because they
had nothing to do. Effective, relevant education and decent-paying
jobs give kids a stake in the community and a future with hope and
dignity. With a paycheck and self-esteem, crime rates will fall.

Charles D. Edelstein

Senior judge, 11th Judicial Circuit, Miami
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