In her response, Judge Kent rightfully shares credit with other elected officials for first steps taken in Smith County to shift away from policies causing unnecessary incarceration for low-level offenses.
I read Mr. Scott Henson's letter, printed 11-12-07 in the Tyler Morning Telegraph, and wanted to thank him for his kind remarks but to also correct some of his information. Smith County citizens should demand and receive the best from their public servants. I believe that the judges, district attorney, and law enforcement are working together to provide public safety through incarceration but also new and innovative programs aimed at reducing recidivism. I don't believe that just giving criminal offenders a ticket or a slap on wrist makes our society safer. Nor do I believe that throwing everyone in jail or prison is the answer. The problems our society face are complex and so are the answers. Many new and old tools of criminal justice are needed to deal with the criminal by-product of a society in trouble unless the good old fashion values of hard work, decency, honesty, clean living, and love of neighbor are re-instilled in our daily lives. Just building a bigger jail is not the answer. However, letting violent offenders free to victimize our community is also not acceptable.Thanks, Judge, for the response and for your hard work (and smart politics) on this issue. As I told Judge Kent responding to her email forwarding the above note, "I think you're too modest ... You've fought an uphill battle and deserve enormous credit for the courage, intelligence and common sense you've shown on this issue over the past couple of years." I do believe that's true - too many other Tyler elected officials have been too quick to jump to building an enormous, expensive new jail as the easy way out. Plus, high pretrial detention rates are entirely a function of decisions by Smith County judges.The new programs in Smith County are the product of a team approach to reducing jail overcrowding but still addressing the needs of public safety. Our district attorney, Matt Bingham, and his staff have worked hard to participate in the new Alternative Incarceration Center Program and Jail Expedited Case Court while still focusing on the rights of victims and the community to safety. These new and innovative programs are aimed at expediting cases so that our local jail will only house and feed inmates for the limited time needed to properly dispose of their case. Without the prosecutor's hard work these programs would fail to provide jail overcrowding relief.
The local judges have brainstormed and worked hard to implement the programs to reduce the local jail population, while still protecting the public with proper sentencing for criminal offenders. Judge Carol Clark has worked long and hard hours with the AIC program and to start up the drug court for families in divorce cases with serious drug addictions. She should be highly commended for her willingness to utilize these new justice tools. Her work has resulted in fewer parents locked up in jail, more parents working and paying their child support, and better counseling for parents with drug addictions. Judge Randall Rogers has worked to investigate new technology, such as SCRAM (Secure Continuous Remote Alcohol Monitoring) to deal with DWI and other alcohol criminal offenders outside of the jail. Judge Russell, Judge Skeen, Judge Dunn, and Judge Getz have all spend many hours evaluating the new programs and carefully selecting those individuals who could participate in the jail reduction programs without increasing the safety risk to our community. The judges have differing degrees of confidence in these new programs. That is healthy and necessary in developing new and effective tools to address growing criminal problems in our world.
Our community is in debt to our probation officers, who are doing the hard day-to-day work of helping people turn away from crime, illegal drugs, and alcohol abuse. These men and women are a critical key to giving a hand up to people who want to positively change their lives. Sheriff Smith, well, I don't know how he keeps all the balls in the air with the jail so overcrowded. Somehow he seems to get the job done with the limited resources he has available to his office.
I wish that I could take all the credit for these new programs, but the truth is that many public servants are working hard to reduce the jail population in a safe and responsible manner. My opinion is that it is a better use of our local resources to increase the facilities for the courts, district attorneys, and probation officers, then just build a bigger jail to house, feed, clothe, and medicate inmates. We need more prosecutors and judges to sort out the cases properly, free the innocent, rehabilitate the guilty and non-violent offenders, and then ship off to prison those who pose a serious and continuing threat to our public safety. Our criminal felony case load has increased ten fold since we last created a new district court. Smith County has historically just continued to build more jail cells, but this does not help move the cases out of our jail and on to the proper disposition. It just builds an expensive and bigger criminal warehouse. Smith County deserves a more innovative and productive response from government. I believe our district attorney and judges understand that challenge and are trying to develop positive solutions.
Well, that is the opinion of this simple country judge.Sincerely,Judge Cynthia Stevens Kent
But it's also true that elected officials now can universally see that Tyler voters won't support paying for another dose of Incarcerex, and she and her allies will need broad political support to make real reform happen and make it stick. So I applaud Judge Kent, both for her past work to prevent unnecessary jail building and support for incarceration alternatives, and also for her insistence on framing what steps must be taken next in a smarter and more politically astute manner than did my letter.
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