Monday, November 12, 2007

Judge Cynthia Kent spreads credit on Smith County jail alternatives

Tyler District Judge Cynthia Kent forwards me a response she penned to a letter to the editor I wrote to the Tyler Morning Telegraph that ran today (see here). My letter was based on this Grits blog post suggesting additional strategies for reducing overcrowding at the Smith County Jail and praising Judge Kent for her leadership on the issue in Tyler.

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.

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.

Judge Cynthia Stevens Kent
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.

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.



Anonymous said...

Cynthia Kent used to be a fall down drunk, may still be, other judges, J.B., and lawyers too. Are you Tylerites blind? Smith County jail is overcrowded because Tyler police arrest people for anything they feel like. And who can attest their "honest word". The jail would be sufficient if the police tracked and arrested hardcore criminals. But this is easier and the public believes them. Citizens, talk to people. Visit bars, see, ask bartenders people's names. Do your homework!

Anonymous said...

anonymous..Tylerites, have been blind for years. It's comfortable. God forbid we should sit in these court rooms and watch the circus. It would make us feel bad when we go home and prop our feet up to enjoy the evening news (made just right for us). Yep, you need a drink to stomach it sometimes. I am sure good judgements are made, but when I witness an unfair sentence as I did today in Judge Kent's court, I am reminded that I have been here way too long to just keep being silent when it comes to people's lives. I believe she stated something in this article about "ship off to prison those who pose a serious and continuing threat to our public safety.." The young man she "shipped off" today posed NO threat. The ones she reinstated...well..who knows. Perhaps they had a family with a pocketbook and a Tylerite name. I failed to see justice today...merely 1 more addition to the overcrowded jail..compliments of the judge.

Anonymous said...

Leave judge Kent alone, she has helped so many people with this program, I am on AIC and I have no past record becides the one I got in 2005, I revoked in Dec. 07 for not reporting, I was behind on my fees and my PO was very rude. she gave me AIC, then I revoked again in MAY because I gave a guy a ride home that was on AIC for child sup. I didnt know anyways, she gave me another chance because she can tell I am not a bad person and ive never failed a drug test this whole time 2006 to now. I pay my sup.fee's and I do my community serv. on my 1 day off. I was a manager for 6 years got addicted to ambien and called in my own scrips. do i deserve prison for that NO nor do I for not reporting or giving someone a ride a block up the road, My mom is a teacher and my dad also so no we are not well to do and i believe she is doing a great job, she seems to care about the people! I believe she wants to help ppl get help and the AIC is a gret program.
I respect her and if it wasnt for her i'd be in a prison cell for something that happened 3 years ago. The probation officers at AIC are great helpfull and care so go ahead and blast Kent, but she is helping alot of people.

Anonymous said...

Kent, Rogers, Getz, judges yes, but none deserve "The Honorable" in front of their names, nor "Your Honor" when addressing them in a courtroom. Power has gone to their heads. But, it is really all about the money. The State gives the system $100 per day per person in jail. Compare it to TISD getting more State money if their student attendance stays high. People can be arrested at a law officer's whim. Unless you are someone of status or with plenty of money. These judges pick and choose whether they will listen to the person before them and already have their minds made up as to the sentence. If the person has a probation officer, the PO's woman representative will voice her opinion by mis-representing the person and the judge will listen to her. Sitting in on some of these courtrooms will make you ashamed of what you have just witnessed against a non-criminal and you will find yourself shaking your head in disbelief. The system is more corrupt then the person standing alone in front of them - helpless. Smith County should be on trial. I do not know how they go to sleep at night. Alcohol? One day coming they will be judged by the highest Judge.

nojustice said...

No justice, no peace. That should be the motto for Smith County. The entire justice system in Smith county needs to be overhauled. Can we get fair & unbiased judges? Can we have people judged based on facts & evidence, not the color of their skin? I've known of several cases where blacks are handed down much harsher sentences that whites. The judges, namely Kent, need to be investigated. She does not give black defendants a fair chance. She does exactly what she wants & no one does a dam thing about it!!!And don't try a jury trial, you will not get a jury of your "peers". The police officers, DA & judges all work together. Its really a shame that in 2008 blacks are still being treated unfairly. I'm not a whiner, this is the truth. As someone said previously, the judges make up their mind before the cases are presented. People committ crimes & should be punished however everyone deserves a fair opportunity in court. Don't believe me, all you have to do is spend a few days in theirs courtrooms. Smith County court system should be ashamed!!!

Anonymous said...

321st district court regularly violates constitutional rights. Jail overcrowding? Carole Clark has put several people in jail for not picking up cans as a means to pay child support. She should be removed from the bench. Mandy should be fired as well bunch of man hating swine. Arroyo should have had target practice.

Anonymous said...

Don't you all see the AIC is almost impossible to comply with? It's all part of the scheme to build a new jail. One judge creates an "alternative to jail then they make money off you having to report once a day, when you violate, they put you in jail again, they can then say we tried alternatives, they didn't work we should go ahead with a new jail.The most recent jail proposal is also a joke, and there's no way smith county spends 17 million to house inmates out of county, they make money doing that because you are housed in a federal cell which brings federal dollars. Most of the counties they send you to are poor counties. Smith County is greedy they won't do anything that will cause them to lose money.

Anonymous said...

I affirm Cynthia Kent as a honorable Godly lady. I consider her my friend,and prayer partner. Cynthia Kent has stood for Justice for all in smith County. She has worked hard to ge the offenders off the streets to protect the innocent. Judge Kent performed her job as Judge by God's requirements and what the Law Said.Her rule book first, was God's word. i have met and prayed with her many times in her Chambers. I agree we do not some immediate changes in CSmith County. The changes in Law Enforcement and the Da's office comes from you the voters. We can make changes needed at the polls. So start praying, asking God for his wisdom and changes as he wills to be done. Pray and go VOTE. We must not complain if we do not Vote. Cynthia Kent is now practicing law in Tyler Texas. Anyone needing a fair honest Attorney, she fits that descreption.I commend her for her dilligent, focused work here in our City.. REMBER PRAY---------i cHRON 7:14.... God Bless Judge Kent and God Bless Smith County and America i also commend GIRLS FOR BREAKFAST....