08/16/04 — Hard lesson: If probation fails, don’t try it again

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Hard lesson: If probation fails, don’t try it again

The murder of six young people in Florida demonstrates graphically the importance of parole and probation officers in our criminal justice system, and it drives home to us the manner in which probation is supposed to work.

Probation is a product of society’s merciful intentions. We do not wish to keep a person confined if he has been sufficiently punished and can be given his freedom without endangering the public.

With probation, such a person who has been convicted of a crime can be freed, but only under certain conditions. He must consult at specified times with a probation counselor, and he must not commit any crimes. Sometimes, other conditions might be added by a court to fit a particular set of circumstances.

If the probationer does not fulfill these conditions, probation has failed. Because the public has been endangered by his freedom, he is to be returned to jail. Without that caveat, there could be no probation or parole.

Probation for Troy Victorino of Deland, Fla., failed last month, as it had many times in his life. While he was on probation — having been convicted of assault and theft — he allegedly committed another assault, made harassing phone calls and committed a hit-and-run offense. Still, he was not returned to jail as he should have been. Someone did not take his job seriously enough.

Finally, Victorino assaulted a man in a dispute over a car debt, was arrested again, and was released under a $2,500 bond. The next day, sheriff’s deputies, according to routine, filed a report with the probation office. The report said Victorino appeared to be “a threat to the community.”

The probation office had 48 hours, according to the rules, to ask a judge for a warrant so Victorino could be taken back into custody. It was not done for nearly a week. Someone else did not take his job seriously enough.

Meanwhile, Victorino checked in with his probation officer, and he was allowed to leave. The system failed again.

On Friday, July 30, the arrest recommendation got to the judge, who issued a warrant. It was too late. The day before, six young people had been beaten to death in a house near Deland, Fla. Victorino is charged with leading three teen-agers into the house where the four clubbed the occupants to death with baseball bats and stabbed them.

One of the victims was a young girl who earlier had evicted Victorino from her grandparents’ winter home, which he was using without permission as a party house. After he was gone, she found a video game and took it home. That, according to Florida authorities, was why she and her five friends were murdered.

Victorino is 27, and he has been involved with courts and probation since he was 16. He had been in out of prison and has often persuaded courts to give him probation or house arrest rather than locking him up. This is the third time he has violated probation or an electronic-monitoring sentence.

The lessons are simple, and like most simple lessons they are things we should have known in the first place: Don’t release past probation violators on probation because he cannot be trusted. When a probationer violates the conditions of his release, lock him up immediately.

Published in Editorials on August 16, 2004 1:33 PM