Official seeks to break jail cycle
Jay Meisel | Highlands TodaySEBRING - Having worked in the public defender's office for decades, Rex Dimmig said he's seen many instances involving offenders going in and out of jails multiple times, he said Wednesday.
Published: February 1, 2013
Published: February 1, 2013
"There have been few resources focused on those people who could be re-diverted," so they could find a permanent path out of the system, said Dimmig, who has been in the office since 1988.
Dimmig, who became public defender on Jan. 1 for the 10th Judicial District, which includes Highland, Polk and Hardee counties, said he wants to help people get out of the system, instead of just providing legal representation during their trials.
Through his experience, he said, he's seen some really bad people. On the other hand, some defendants are those who "just make a stupid mistake," he added.
Many of those people never commit another crime, Dimmig added.
A middle group includes people who commit multiple crimes, but aren't necessarily truly bad people, Dimmig said. Most often they have issues that affect their lives, such as substance addiction or mental illness, he said.
Some were raised in an environment that made it more difficult for them to succeed, he said.
Dimmig said he's advocating a program that helps people help themselves to succeed.
He is reaching out to various social service and faith-based groups to find out what community services are available. Then his office will advise people where they can obtain help, he said.
"They may not know what resources exist to help them," he said.
Dimmig said he doesn't see the program as a quick fix for all, and in some cases it may take multiple times for someone to be successful.
A lot of the defendants are "basically good people who find they have violated a law and they need some help to get out of the system and keep them out of the system," Dimmig said.
A lack of transportation challenges many who need help, he said.
Dimmig said that in Polk County he will work to get bus passes so people can make it to appointments with social service or faith-based organizations.
But with Highlands and Hardee counties, which lack mass transportation, "that's going to be a bigger challenge," he added.
One future possibility is that an organization or a church with a van would help to provide transportation, he said.
In some other judicial districts, a drug court allows first-time offenders to keep their criminal record clean if they graduate from a program that includes requirements for treatment and monitoring.
Dimmig said he doesn't believe that's the role of a judge. He said that with his program, though, opportunities may exist for people to have their sentence or adjudication deferred, pending their efforts to obtain help.
He's hoping to have at least some of the program operational by the middle of this year, he said.