Brian Dennis

Word on the Street Columnist Brian Dennis. 

In my Aug. 7 column entitled, “A Disparity Study needs to be conducted on MDEAT,” I mentioned a few agencies, aside from Miami-Dade Economic Advocacy Trust, that hold (or held) significant historic value to Black Miami.

Periodically, you will see “Word on the Street” highlight the highs – and lows – of agencies such as those, which are cornerstones to a suitable way of life for African-Americans in this town. One of those agencies is The Alternative Programs Inc., or what the courts and the streets refer to as TAP.

TAP was founded by Miami’s beloved “spitfire” herself, Georgia Jones-Ayers, as an alternative to jail for low-income, non-violent, adults and juveniles. It was created to provide a no-cash bail mechanism to those who’ve committed non-violent misdemeanors and second-or-third degree non-violent felony offenses. Jones-Ayers founded TAP alongside then-Senior Assistant State Attorney and, now-retired Senior Circuit Judge Thomas K. Petersen, under the authority of the Miami-Dade State Attorney’s Office.  But that merely answers the question of “what” TAP is.  It’s the “why” that should make you sit up and give you a reason to fight. 

You see, Metro-Miami Action Plan (now referred to as MDEAT), wasn’t the only electric reaction to the infamous 1980 McDuffie Riots. It turns out that the criminal justice system allowed for the consolidation of several ex-offender programs in 1982. Under the leadership of Ayers, the Alternative Programs (TAP) was born. Leaders of that time recollect seeing Jones-Ayers in the streets of Liberty City during the height of the McDuffie Riots, grabbing young, Black men by the back of their pants and ordering them to go home.

Jones-Ayers was a pillar of courage and resiliency in Miami for over four decades.  Her determinant spirit carried her into the den of the Deep South in the 1960s, where she emerged victorious with the city of Miami and Miami-Dade County’s, first-ever, Police/Community Relations Boards of record. At the height of the agency’s success, TAP flourished with innovation and big numbers. With a staff of 30 employees (including two staff-attorneys), the agency’s adult Alternative To Incarceration (ATI) program processed over 2,000 adults per year, the majority of whom were African-American. TAP’s juvenile programs enjoyed similar success, launching two of the county’s first alternative schools: the “Janet Reno Last Chance” and “New Chance” schools for at-risk children. 

Much like MMAP/MDEAT, The Alternative Programs’ glory days piqued in the 1990s. In 1992, for example, the Criminal Administrative Circuit Judge ordered all non-violent offenders who were food stamp recipients, along with those arrested for unemployment compensation fraud (countywide), to be referred to TAP to cut down on jail overcrowding and to address the sad reality of child displacement as a result of the arrests (that sounds familiar). And just like MMAP/MDEAT, the gradual decline and war for resources and position in the system spiked as the 2000s began to roll in. But there’s one thing that hasn’t changed: the money. It turns out that TAP is one of the very few, if not the only, non-profit agency that’s actually a source of revenue for Miami-Dade County government.

TAP’s clientele, today, is 95% homeless offenders, a long way from food stamp recipients. When all of your clients are homeless and with so much drug abuse and mental illness among that population, it begins to present a glaring liability and credibility issue with compliance. TAP generates over $3 million annually for the county. So why is TAP struggling? Why are their staffing levels down to 13 people? Why isn’t the system cooperating like they used to? Is it because Jones-Ayers died and the agency was left for dead?

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