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Sheriff's Office taking over money-losing probation system

The John E. Goode Pre-trial Detention Facility, commonly referred to as the Duval County Jail.

The Jacksonville Sheriff's Office thinks it can make money off a misdemeanor probation program that has been a loser for the nonprofit that has been running it.

The program will move from the Salvation Army to the Sheriff's Office starting in December. JSO Budget Chief Bill Clement told City Council that JSO projects the program will break even its first year, then provide surplus revenue for the city in subsequent years.

The Salvation Army has handled the county's probation serves for over four decades. The city canceled the contract after the nonprofit requested more money to administer the service.

City officials declined to allow the contract to naturally expire in 2023 after researching the cost of moving the program in-house. The contract allowed either party to cancel it at any point, with a five-month transition period.

"For the last several years it has not been a profitable program, or even a break-even program, " said Keath Biggers, commander for the Salvation Army in Northeast Florida. "We had lost substantial funding, especially during the COVID pandemic."

According to Biggers, the program is operating on a skeleton crew of less than 20 workers, who are working to transition the program to JSO by Dec. 1.

Misdemeanor offenders on probation won't notice much of a difference on paper. Services they're mandated to pay the Salvation Army for, such as monthly supervision for $60, or drug tests for $30, will remain essentially the same under the JSO.

As part of the transition, the JSO submitted legislation to the Jacksonville City Council requesting over $1.4 million in city funds to help start the program in its first year and authorize 16 new positions within the department to run misdemeanor probation services.

The ordinance has been approved by two committees and now heads to the full City Council for vote on Tuesday.

A majority of counties in Florida operate their own misdemeanor probation services. In its presentation to the council's Finance Committee, JSO listed Pinellas and Hillsborough as counties comparable to Duval that have moved services from the Salvation Army to their sheriff's offices in the last 10 years.