Wednesday, July 22, 2009

New Rule: Nobody making arrests for overdue library books gets to complain about jail overcrowding

In Wichita Falls, economic distress is boosting incarceration rates in the local jail because so many more petty defendants can't afford to post bond. According to the W-F Times-Record News ("Room scarce at jail," July 22)

The number of people coming into the jail every day essentially hasn’t changed, [Chief Deputy Derek] Meador said. What does seem to be different now, he and Sheriff David Duke said, is that in many cases, people are coming in and staying for longer periods.

People arrested for offenses such as unreturned library materials tend to post bond quickly and then leave.

“The persons who don’t fit in that group are staying longer,” Meador said. Some might take 10-12 days to gather the funds necessary to post bond when it might have taken a day or two before. In some other cases, people come in on felony charges and can’t make bond.

During the meeting, Duke gave the example of someone in jail on a drug-related charge — possession of certain chemicals with intent to manufacture a controlled substance — with bond set at $20,000.

A year ago, “They got out the next day,” he said. “Nowadays, they’re staying.”

First things first: Nobody who's arresting people for overdue library books gets to complain about jail overcrowding. Period. That part cracked me up. Tallying up the costs of using police and the jail that way, in short order it'd be cheaper to replace the books!

What's more, if there are large numbers of misdemeanants waiting 10-12 days to post bond, that's the fault of local judges for setting bails too high for petty offenses and not giving enough personal bonds where the offender is not a significant flight risk. At some point in a declining economy, elected officials must use some common sense and prioritize scarce resources based on public safety.

Regrettably, no mention was made of new tools given to law enforcement by the Legislature in 2007 to reduce jail overcrowding: Officers may now issue citations instead of making arrests, at their discretion, for a number of common, low-level nonviolent misdemeanors, though only a few agencies have used the new authority.

In the current budget environment, it wouldn't surprise me if that changed in the near term, as tight county budgets dominated by jail spending begin to trump the habitual "soft on crime" carping because it's too expensive to incarcerate every petty misdemeanant, and of course, recalcitrant local readers. At a minimum, it'd be nice to see local media making such options part of the conversation about jail overcrowding.


R. Shackleford said...

...Library materials?! Jesus, that sounds like the kind of thing your mom would say to scare the hell out of you when you'd kept a book too long. I can't imagine even the most rabid proponent of tough law advocating for the arrest of someone who had an overdue book. I'll be staying FAR away from any county with that kind of zeal.

Anonymous said...

What I have found amazing about the really petty stuff. The things like traffic tickets, (snicker) over-due library books, and the like.. Why hasn't someone suggested that a person's taxes be garnished yearly. Seriously folks. THe government already has your money. Put a lein on any tax settlement a person gets yearly for the amount owed. Makes it fairly simple for the local and state government to collect on back tickets, and if the people REALLY want to get their tax refunds yearly, they will be more apt to pay the things off before tax time. Just a thought, good/bad/indifferent, it still beats jailing someone for library fines..

Charlie O said...


The unreturned library materials sounds like something you've been railing against for awhile now. Texas's insistence on solving every societal ill by criminalizing conduct. Texans' "lock'em up and throw away the key" mentality is biting them in the ass, financially.

I'm sure Texas will eventually start closing schools and libraries (that'll teach those library scofflaws) before it EVER closes a prison.

Anonymous said...

Last year I had the interesting....unfortunate experience of spending a week in scenic Wichita Falls. The highlights being wandering around a half empty, economically depressed downtown area and watching the fist fight between two softball grandmas in the hotel parking lot. Why does it not surprise me that they actually arrest people for not paying the fines on their late library books.

So my only questions are:

Do they have a mini jail for the juvenile offenders?

Can they garnish their allowance and what if their parents can't afford to give their kids an allowance? Would work release conflict with the child labor laws?

And finally, has Texas yet made unpaid library fees a felony and do they uphold a three strikes rule?

Sorry Johnny, but that's your third offense. Forget the sixth grade class trip, it's going to be twenty to life.

Anonymous said...

"And finally, has Texas yet made unpaid library fees a felony and do they uphold a three strikes rule?"

Only if it has something to do with Oysters...

Anonymous said...

The overdue library books sounds more like it is a violation of a city ordinance. If so and according to a TX attorney general's opinion, the sheriff is not required to accept a prisoner for violation of a city ordinance, unless an interlocal agreement to do so exists.

Anonymous said...

Well, I confess, I am a librarian. I've heard that some in my profession have been requiring DNA swabs and fingerprints to be taken upon check-out, but until now I thought it was just a myth.

Let this be a lesson to one and all. Do not underestimate those quiet bookish types when they get really annoyed.

Case in point -

Hook Em Horns said...

Maybe Texas can make overdue library books a felony. That way we can relieve jail overcrowding and fill up our prisons. That makes sense...right?

Anonymous said...

Love reading your blog and will continue to do so.

There were a total of four people since January 1, 2008 charged with that offense in Wichita County. Each time they had other charges as well.

It was intended to show that the most petty offenders still managed to get out of jail relatively quickly while more serious offenders seem to have be having a harder time securing release.

For the other poster, there is an agreement between Wichita County and the City of Wichita Falls regarding custody of prisoners.

Derek Meador