LEE COUNTY, Fla. - It's a question many have asked us after violent crimes: why was the suspect able to get out of prison, and allowed to break the law - or worse, hurt someone, again? Thursday night, the Florida Department of Corrections held a Town Hall Meeting at Florida Gulf Coast University to explain the Transition from Prison to Community Initiative that they hope will stop the cycle of crime.
Neighbors who lived near Billy Ray Retherford, Jr. knew about his lengthy criminal history, and worried each time he was released, it could happen again.
"Someone told us, rumor had it that Billy said he wasn't going back alive," one neighbor told WINK News.
Authorities say Retherford killed two people in Lee County in the last month. Debra Striano was killed on July 24th, and Gregory Imhoff was killed August 7th. Deputies and U.S. Marshalls finally tracked him down Wednesday, shooting and killing him when they say he threatened them with a gun.
Florida has a 30% recidivism rate, meaning almost one in three inmates released from state prisons will return within three years.
"It costs us $20,000 per year, per inmate to clothe, feed, house, secure, and provide medical," Department of Corrections Secretary Kenneth Tucker said. "That's $200 million dollars a year that recidivism is costing the Department of Corrections."
Tucker is traveling around the state, holding Town Hall Meetings. He and his Department are taking suggestions on how to get communities involved as inmates are released, to increase their chances of success, resulting in fewer crimes and fewer victims.
Drug rehab and behavioral programs are just two ways Tucker says they're teaching inmates how to make better, more positive decisions. They also look at each inmate's specific risks and needs and create programs specifically for individual inmates.
But in the case of Retherford, or even the most violent criminal, he says once time is served, they have to release them, and hope their paths won't cross again.
"We have no authority to hold them beyond that," Tucker said. "I believe people can change, but we have to help them do that."
61 prisoners will be released in Lee County in the month of August. 21 will be released in Collier County, and 25 in Charlotte County. The initiative model involves 3 phases: Getting Ready, Going Home, and Staying Home.
To submit your ideas, suggestions, thoughts, concerns, or questions; you can e-mail the D.O.C. at Reentryefforts@mail.dc.state.fl.us