When Senior Alternative Sentencing Specialist Jennifer Miller started working in the Alternative Sentencing Unit (ASU) 16 years ago, she immediately had the opportunity to witness the impact of the unit’s programs. One of the first offenders she provided with an alcohol monitor was in his 60s and had been addicted to alcohol since he was 13.

He said he used to start every day cracking open a beer and drank alcohol more than he ate. When he came to ASU, he was underweight, jobless, and homeless. Although Specialist Miller was skeptical he would be able to stop drinking during pre-trial, she was still hopeful he could complete the program. As time went on, she noticed there were no alerts coming in that he was drinking, and he was looking better every time he came for a check-in. By the time the monitor was removed, he was healthier, had a part-time job, a home, and he was forever grateful.

“He said he turned this terrible event that happened in his life into a good thing,” Specialist Miller said. “It helped him get sober. His story stands out in my mind because that alcohol monitor likely saved his life. By the time he finished the program, he had his life together more than he ever had before.”

Sergeant Doug Gettmann says it is very common for offenders to become sober during their programs because of the accountability an alcohol monitor provides. Sometimes they even ask to keep the monitor on for a longer period of time to help them overcome their addiction.

In addition to the alcohol monitors, ASU manages the GPS monitors, Day Reporting, Supervised Released on Recognizance, Supervised Bond, and the Adult Pre-Arrest Diversion (APAD) programs. Together, the 30 members supervise about 1,600 pre-arrest, pre-trial, and sentenced offenders who must abide by court-ordered sanctions in order to be released back into the community.

The conditions of their program are determined by a judge and can range anywhere from drug screening, to home confinement, and daily phone calls.

“It costs roughly $123 a day to house an inmate in the Pinellas County Jail,” Sgt. Gettmann said. “Last year, our programs saved taxpayers millions of dollars by keeping offenders out of the jail.”

Not only do ASU programs save money, but they also allow offenders to be productive while they await trial. In most cases, they can work, receive medical care from their own doctors, and participate in community service while their cases move through the court system. If any of the offenders are not compliant, the ASU specialists can talk to a judge in order to obtain a warrant for their arrest so deputies can take them back into custody.

On any given day, Miller and the other senior specialists could be in court providing information about the monitors to judges or making routine phone calls to ensure offenders know when their court dates have been scheduled. A corporal and four deputies in the unit also assist with monitoring offenders, making arrests, notifying victims, and confirming addresses.

Beyond ensuring that the community stays safe and that offenders follow their sanctions, ASU focuses on teamwork. Every member of the team must interact with many different types of people, including state attorneys, judges, public defenders, and staff at the Pinellas County Jail.

“This unit truly is all about people,” Sgt. Gettmann said. “If you can make a positive impression on someone’s life, I think that makes you successful. We treat everyone with respect, and we genuinely care about the offenders, the victims, and the community.”