Residents who live near the Turner Guilford Knight Correctional Center are outraged about a recent change that means inmates who post bond are being released from the facility into their neighborhoods.
Virginia Gardens resident Don Howard says he found a recently released inmate from the TGK facility near his home.
"We saw someone out on the sidewalk sitting down and we went out there and called the police,” he said.
Virginia Gardens and Miami Springs are tree-lined residential communities located next door to the correctional facility in west Miami-Dade near Miami International Airport. Now they’re on edge.
A new video hookup installed this summer allowed inmates at TGK to appear before bond court judges without leaving the facility and being taken via bus to the downtown courthouse – something that had been done for years. After the video system was installed, Miami-Dade Corrections began releasing inmates who posted bond directly from TGK.
"Basically they let them out during the whole night and they walk through these neighborhoods,” said Miami-Dade County Commissioner Jose “Pepe” Diaz, who represents the area. “There is nothing good that is going to come out of this. And eventually people are going to get hurt."
Diaz said that in June 1,600 people left TGK, in July 3,500, in August 4,700 and in September 3,800. That adds up to almost 14,000 since the change.
Virginia Gardens Police said recently released inmate John Firman stole a car and some tools before he even made it to his official destination.
"Public transportation closes around 9:45 so they walk into our village,” Virginia Gardens Mayor Fred Spencer Deno said. “That's putting a strain on our police department and we've had quite a few instances now where we've had instances from the TGK releases.”
In August Miami-Dade Corrections indicated it released 51 inmates per night from TGK.
A woman named Itzel, who lives near downtown and didn't want to be further identified, said she didn’t think it was right to release the inmates near there.
“They're kids — some kids that walk home alone,” she said.
Those who live near the downtown facility don't want the inmates released coming back near them.
The commissioner for areas near downtown said the families who live and play there deserve protection too.
"The county corrections has started piling prisoners up in like a bus – busloads and bringing them into the Civic Center area,” County Commissioner Audrey Edmonson said. “I know that Mr. Diaz says that he has parks and children in that area. My main concern is what makes his children and his parks better than mine. Every one of us have children and parks and I think it should be distributed evenly."
There is no solution yet. All sides including the corrections department, the mayor’s office and the representatives of the affected neighborhoods are going to get together to see what, if anything, they can work out.
The inmates have a constitutional right to get a reasonable bond, so the vast majority are going to get out. The question is where.
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