Why a $600 theft will cost this man 20 years and Florida thousands

Why a $600 theft will cost this man 20 years and Florida thousands
Robert Spellman (Image Source: Escambia County Jail)

A man in Pensacola, Florida has learned a hard lesson over a theft of cigarettes. In December of 2017, Robert Spellman went into a locked managers’ office at a Circle K in Pensacola and stole 10 cartons of cigarettes. The cigarettes were worth about $600, according to the Pensacola New Journal. When police scouted the area, they spotted Spellman with the cartons in his hands and he was taken into custody. This was not his first encounter with law enforcement; Spellman had 14 felony and 31 misdemeanor convictions. As such, he was considered a habitual offender. This past Friday, Spellman was sentenced to 20 years in state prison after being convicted in August 2018 on charges of burglary and grand theft.

It is a harsh reality in the economics of the criminal justice system. A $600 theft, which was recoverable by the store owner, has resulted in a hefty bill for Florida taxpayers. In 2015, Vera research organization estimated that it cost the state of Florida around $19,069 to house one prisoner. If Spellman were to serve his full sentence of 20 years, it would cost taxpayers close to $500K. During that time, he will have the opportunity to engage in prison labor that offers a salary as low as .12 cents an hour.

Like the other 97,000 inmates in the system, he may be subject to the Florida Department of Corrections’ controversial contract with JPay Inc., who the state is using to replace in person visits with video visits. According to the Miami Herald, JPay Inc. charges prisoners’ accounts for the visitations and gets a percentage of any money sent through their system from family to inmates. The Campaign for Prison Reform has been fighting the state to eradicate this contract for several months.

There is nothing in Spellman’s prison background that would indicate that he was framed. A look at his prison record on the Florida Department of Corrections’ website shows that he has been robbing, stealing and beating people since 1986. This time, it was cigarettes that ended his crime spree and cost taxpayers.

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