Smith County voters won't get a chance to revisit jail expansion bonds until, at the earliest, November 2007, and even then the bonds could fail again. So it's up to Judge Kent and her colleagues on the bench to find solutions for local overincarceration woes. They seem to be making some progress. Wrote Judge Kent:
It seems that things are moving ahead well with our plans.The Alternative Incarceration Program was described in more detail in a press release reprinted in this post.
The Smith County Commissioners approved approximately $350,000.00 to start the Smith County Alternative Incarceration Program, with funding starting on October 1, 2006.
Last week the Smith County Judiciary approved the Day Reporting Center and Alternative Incarceration Program plan which I wrote with our Probation Department Director, Mr. Gerald Hayden. Mr. Hayden has hired a new director for this program and he is interviewing the probation officers and getting our jobs program, alcohol and drug counselors, GED program, and mental health counselor program personnel organized and hiring those individuals needed to run these programs. We hope to go on line by mid-November or December 1, 2006.
The program calls for quarterly reports to judge whether we are meeting our performance standards.
If you e-mail me around March we should have some good figures for you.
I am excited because I really believe the jobs program and the drug counseling aspect of the day reporting program will benefit the public safety, reduce our jail population and taxpayer expenses, and very importantly and significantly help the defendants and their families that find themselves in need for this type of program.
Smith County's rejection of new jail bonds last spring showed that voters won't endlessly pay for incarcerating more low-level offenders. A recent staff editorial in the Tyler Morning Telegraph praised state leaders like House Corrections Committee Chairman Jerry Madden for seeking alternatives to incarceration for drug offenses ("Cost-conscious prison policy sought by state," Sept. 25). Some local judges may have missed the memo, but that's Smith County justice. Things change slowly. Judge Kent is pushing for change, at least, in a smarter direction. Bully for her - I hope her fellow judges and the county commissioners court exhibit enough wisdom to follow her lead.