Saturday, November 10, 2007

Voters who rejected county jails looking for better justice policies

If you're a Smith County resident who hasn't been arrested, declared a Tyler-based blog, "Statistically speaking: They just haven't gotten around to you yet!"

Thanks so much to the reader who turned me on to Smith County: Tell the Truth, a Tyler-based political blog which had a good write-up on the jail plebiscite that failed by a 70-30 margin on Tuesday, declaring "residents feel, and justly so, that it is not so much the jail that needs to be revamped, but the entire way that justice is mis-handled in this county."

Having not seen the blog before (posting is infrequent), I hadn't seen their arguments from earlier this year against the jail. If Tyler has so many more criminals compared to other counties, the writer observes, it might be cheaper than building a jail simply to build a fence with razor wire around the town! Here's more from a piece posted in April:
The people of Smith county showed incredible good sense in turning down the first jail proposals, ostensibly for tax reasons, which was, by the way, the rationale for the first American Revolution and several smaller ones to follow. I want to offer a few more thoughts on why we were right.This is not a rant, the logic is sound, and the stats are available to anyone at the official state website.

The statistics tell the tale. Smith County Texas locks up it's citizens at about twice the rate of the state's average. That is in a state where the incarceration rate is 44% higher than the national average! Now, why is that? Well, some possible reasons are:

That more of the residents of our county are criminals than any other place in the country.

That our Peace Officers are so highly efficient that they catch and incarcerate more than the rest of the country.

That there is something wrong.

Now, I read an article saying that a big part of the overcrowding problem in the jail was due to the population growth. Folks, these figures are per capita, so that dog won't hunt!

If the first is true, we don't need a new jail, we need a 20 foot high FENCE with razor wire around the county! Well, you say, not everyone in the county is a criminal. My answer, have you looked at the probation figures? If you couple them with the per capita incarceration rate provided by official state records, even factoring out the doubling, you would seem to be wrong! You haven't been arrested? Statistically speaking: THEY JUST HAVEN'T GOTTEN AROUND TO YOU YET!

How about the second possibility? I am sure that we have a fine group of deputies in this county, but, if they are that good at locking away bad guys, there should be a zero crime rate by now!

The options are diminishing. Unfortunately, there really are no others but the last. We either have a higher rate per capita of criminals, the Deputies are more efficient, or something is wrong. THERE ARE NO OTHER OPTIONS!

What then is wrong with our system? For starters, we might consider that many of the inmates in our much maligned jail are there awaiting trial for insanely long periods of time. I believe it was one of our Judges who pointed this out. Something needs to be done to get these folks through the system a little quicker. Decrease the bail, or clean up the process and make it move faster. Perhaps some of these folks could be ticketed and mailed a summons unless they are caught in the act of some particularly egregious crime.

Many of the inmates are there for not paying child support. Someone please explain this one to me. Exactly who is benefiting from this practice? It is obvious that this is no better than debtors prison. The guy can't pay if he can't work, and he won't find to many lucrative opportunities in jail. Don't get me wrong, I know something has to be done, and I am a strong proponent of doing it, but this isn't it.

The other large group of our locals housed in our facility, seems to be what we once called "potheads," people who were found with relatively small quantities of the dreaded cannabis. I know that it is illegal under current law, but can't we do something besides locking these folks away and clogging up the system. I can name a half dozen doctors and lawyers in the area who do the same thing on a daily basis! Can't we give them a ticket and mail them a summons to report later? ...

Sheriff Smith says he just wants a place to lock up murderers and rapists, this might help to provide that space. Otherwise, WE DON'T NEED A JAIL, WE NEED A FENCE!
What a hoot! Meanwhile, I'd said Friday that "citizen journalists" continue to do a better job analyzing jail vote results than the MSM, and a November 9 letter to the editor in the Houston Chronicle continues that trend. Writes Chron reader Staci Hedlund:

Confusion abounds. The defeat of the jail bond baffles Harris County officials who have begun blaming each other for its failure. Political analysts cite late campaign efforts. (Please see "County wonders why jail bonds voted down," Page One, Nov. 8.) And reporters puzzle over voters who simultaneously support new crime labs and reject more jails ("Bonds behind bars / Financing for needed county jail facility, planned for Buffalo Bayou site, fails to gain a majority," Page B8, Nov. 8). Not one of the post-election articles quotes a voter. No wonder it's a mystery.

It makes sense to insist on better crime labs and less space to imprison citizens. Texas Youth Commission official Forrest Novy says, "If you've got a place where you have room for a hundred 10- to 13-year-olds, you're going to fill it up." (Please see "Short of years, but long in lockup," Page One, Nov. 1.) Granted, this bond was not for TYC facilities, but it follows that the principle would apply to adults.

Please present us with a bond that provides more health services for prisoners without more opportunities to lock up our people.

After years of convictions on flawed evidence combined with escalating imprisonment rates, it is no wonder that the voters have spoken. Will the "deciders" understand that ill-timed direct mail is not their biggest problem?

I find Staci's letter refreshing and the Tyler blog has me beaming with hometown pride. While many among the media and elected officials continue to believe the public will support near-endless incarceration expansion, voters themselves are beginning to look more critically at overall criminal justice policies instead of automatically buying into "tuff on crime" hype.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Thanks for mentioning my blog, it got some local folks attention! Even one local Judge. I hope we can see an end to the "tech curtain" around the area, and get people more involved in citizen journalism, and local politics. The more minds we have working on this problem, the better the chance for some rational solutions!