JACKSONVILLE, Fla. – Recidivism: The tendency of a convicted criminal to reoffend. The Florida Department of Corrections defines it as a return to prison because of a new conviction or violation within three years of release.
One of the main concerns for people in Jacksonville is crime. We see a revolving door for some people, with one arrest after another. What if we could help them become a thriving, healthy part of our community through rehab, counseling and support?
We received dozens of responses from our News4JAX viewers when we asked if they would be in favor of funding this to help cut down on crime.
“The immediate solution must be a balanced approach of both prevention and restoration. The long-term solution is equal application of community resources and jobs, to give people some hope,” said Michael.
A number of others said “Funding more prisons” is the answer. While Melissa says: “Prevention is the key!! We’re never going to build a better city if we don’t find a solution to the crime!!”
“That’s all I need. Just one to understand what I’ve been through. And I’m alright with it. Because I know everybody don’t and a lot of people don’t really care,” said Julian Foster.
Foster is a family man. The oldest of five. He spends Saturdays taking care of his car and doesn’t hesitate to take it for a ride.
“When I first started driving, I was scared to go on expressways and things like that,” he said.
Typically, you get your license as a teen. The 47-year-old got his license two years ago. Because at 17, he wasn’t thinking about driving.
“We was high on drugs, didn’t know no better,” he shared.
Foster was out committing crimes. His name was attached to 44 robbery and gun charges. At the time, he said, he was just trying to survive.
Foster said it was a need for him to commit those robberies at the time.
“I didn’t have money and we were young and didn’t know any better,” Foster said. “I shot one guy -- I probably was just thinking, ‘I can’t let him get this gun. If he gets this gun, then he gone shoot or kill one of us.”
Foster said he never had intentions of killing anyone. He said he knew he could be caught, but it was just a matter of when. In March of 1994, his time came. He and two friends were out looking to make money. They pulled up on a man standing by a truck with a trailer attached.
“Javon tried to rob him. When I came around and looked, I saw Javon had been shot. I heard another gunshot, so I grabbed Javon and raced him to the car. And I said, ‘Man we got to get him to the hospital,’” Foster said.
Foster was arrested and charged with second-degree murder. In 1995, a judge sentenced him to life without parole.
“The first few years I was in there, I didn’t even think it was a shot at me coming home. I didn’t even see that,” he said.
He said he started to see hope in 2010. While in prison, he met Javon’s son. Foster told him how he tried to save his dad’s life. In return, Javon’s son did something for Foster.
“He wrote a sworn affidavit and told him that he wants to see me come home. Because he said he didn’t feel like it was my fault,” he said.
Because Foster was sentenced as a minor at 17 years old, a Supreme Court decision meant he had the chance for a re-sentencing.
The court agreed to his release -- and that’s when he learned about Prisoners of Christ.
“This type of service provides a true second chance for individuals who want to change their life,” Prisoners of Christ CEO Jeff Witt said. “But it also gives them the skills to not re-offend, which reduces victimization and future crimes.”
The organization sets up jobs, housing and behavioral therapy for citizens returning to society from prison. They mostly help people who were sentenced to life and with violent felony charges. Since 2019, not a single person who successfully completed the year-long program has reoffended and returned to prison or jail.
Witt says to consider what it would mean for Jacksonville to fund efforts in these three realms: enforcement, prevention and restoration.
It could keep people out of the court system, from going to jail and prison, and could lower all of our tax dollars.
“My fear is that in a year or two people are going to say, ‘Hey, the crime rate raised, but we still gave more officers. We gave more money, and it’s the sheriff’s fault.’ When it’s not. You still have prevention and restoration,” Witt said. “And if you’re not doing all of those together, you’re going to have repeat offenders. You’re going to have people that come out of prison, who do not know how to function in society.”
A 2022 FDOC report shows that of the inmates released from prison in 2018, 21.2% were back in prison within three years. That percentage is down slightly from a decade earlier.
These reports don’t include those sentenced to jail, so the rate in Florida is likely higher.
As of August 2023, the Florida Department of Corrections said there were 1,272 inmates in custody who are scheduled to be released in Duval County within the next year. What’s going to happen with all those people coming back to Duval?
Despite its track record, Prisoners of Christ has limited residential space and the city cut the organization’s funding last year. This year, POC qualified for a $156,000 grant.
Will that be enough to support the program and the number of people coming from prison to Duval?
Mayor Donna Deegan agreed programs like Prisoners of Christ need funding. She said her long-term plan for restorative justice involves innovation.
“Well, I think it’s just really important to do more. We have some good reentry programs, but I think we also need to look at some of the innovative things that are being done and say, ‘What can we fund that would actually help us to move the dial on making these numbers better?’ And that’s what we’re looking at right now,” said Deegan.
Foster is grateful for Prisoners of Christ. He went into prison as a teen, feeling no hope for his future.
“I used to be angry. I used to be bitter. I used to feel like everybody was at me, you know, saying nobody cared,” said Foster.
He came out with support, a key part of his success now. He just needs the city to act on his behalf and for people like him.
Foster said people should care because he’s always going to strive to do better.
“And I’m going care about the people that’s around me also,” he said. “There are some guys that are successful here. And they need to find these types of homes because it’s making a difference in a lot of guys’ lives.”
He said if you can’t be successful in Prisoners of Christ, then you can’t be successful anywhere. They set Foster up for success, and it doesn’t have to stop with him.
If you want to learn more about Prisoners of Christ, visit pocjax.org/.