Does lock them up and throw away the key work?

As far as neighborhood meetings go, Historic South Park usually brings 35-45 people out monthly to participate in the ultimate form of “local government.” Last night, we had well over 65 come to Hope Lutheran Church to hear our neighborhood police officers (paid for by Miami Valley Hospital) and members of the County Prosecutor’s office talk about our latest local crime spree.

Ronald Lamont Sizemore  mugshot

Mugshot of Ronald Lamont Sizemore, thief and junkie

The center of the discussion was to try to understand the revolving door that has produced a rap sheet for the recently incarcerated thief and junkie, Ronald Lamont Sizemore. His jail history has to be continued over 3 pages online. Sizemore lived right in the center of a circle of recent break-ins, to include the theft from my garage that you read about 2 weeks ago. None of my stuff has been recovered and the only charges that are sticking on this career criminal are for having appliances that he stole from a former rental. Even his landlord showed up- but didn’t stick around much after the conversation started moving toward declaring houses nuisances when they house criminals.

Since he’s been locked up, we’ve also managed to lock up some juveniles, including one who was featured in this post What to do with punk kids skipping school and was one of the three kids who were with the stolen bike I stole back. That story is almost worthy of a post itself, when they were first booked for getting caught in the process of trying to hot wire a van down my street, the mother gave the wrong name for one of her sons to avoid getting a second curfew violation, only to have the officer realize she had lied, when the same kid was caught bailing out of a car he’d stolen and sustained injuries that had her giving her correct name to hospital staff. The mom was busted for lying.

The neighborhood voted to allocate up to $750 to purchase some video surveillance cameras (as written about in this post), to move around from “hot spot” to “hot spot” to try to help police have more evidence and to allow people to monitor our streets from the safety of their homes. There was one “nay” vote, because obviously someone who hadn’t been broken into, still believed in living in a free society unmolested and unmonitored by big brother. It was refreshing to know that there are still sane minds who refuse to live in a state of perpetual fear.

The discussion about whether we should post signs warning of the cameras.

Two schools of thought emerge, one, wondering if the criminals will read, or care, or if they need to be warned legally (they don’t). And, what kind of message does it send outsiders to know they are walking into a neighborhood so filled with crime that it’s become the London, England, of the Midwest. But, when one bright neighbor asked how this is different  from having the old “neighborhood watch” signs- updated to say we’re using video, the discussion resolved itself.

The reality is, cameras don’t stop or even solve crimes in many cases, only police can do that, but hopefully by being able to distribute the time spent actively watching these cameras, we may be able to alert police more often to catch criminals in the act.

The blame game

The interesting change was the three attorneys from County Prosecutor Matt Heck’s office. Apparently, we’re going to have four prosecutors assigned to our neighborhood. In a “return” to historic practices, prosecutors will now try to come to our meetings and get a pulse of the neighborhood and try to work with neighbors to send a message to judges that light sentences aren’t options anymore for the criminally inclined.

Yet, despite very rarely having choices in elections on whom to vote for, since most judgeships go on the ballot unchallenged, we were left with a parting comment that ultimately we can vote for change since both the prosecutor and the judges are elected. To me, this was almost comical.

The real issue is that incarceration neither works or really provides a deterrent for common criminals anymore. I also believe that our laws are enforced differently between Montgomery County and Greene County and against blacks and whites. The stupidity of the “war on drugs” has also caused our government to spend gross amounts of money trying to stop people from eliminating themselves from the gene pool by natural selection- i.e., become a bad enough junkie and you will eventually OD and die and solve the problems you cause. I’m tired of government trying to save stupid people from themselves.

The lack of meaningful supervision, or “post release control” of convicts returning to society is one of the biggest problems facing this revolving-door system. There is zero accountability by the state for how people like Sizemore are supposed to fit back in. Typically, even a short incarceration causes the inmate to default on payments for utilities and other obligations, destroying his credit, and then Ohio’s auto insurance laws almost automatically force them to purchase high-risk insurance because of a clause that requires you to pay the higher premiums when you’ve had a lapse in insurance coverage. As if these idiots weren’t already at a disadvantage because of their records, we make sure to put obstacles that even law-abiding citizens would have trouble surmounting.

Solutions worth investigating

A nearby house has been trouble for the last three years (note, I didn’t have any break-ins for my first 23 years here- coincidence, I think not). The police used to be there on average of three times a week. Unlike most of these cases, these were homeowners- not renters. A settlement in a lawsuit was used to let a meth addict buy a foreclosed home and move out of “a bad neighborhood” into a good one. Trouble follows idiots.

The drain on our city resources caused by these people who can’t seem to get with the program is huge. Instead of wasting our tax dollars on reaction, we need to use these frequent calls to trigger a series of events. After the third police call to an address or about an individual in a one-year period, it’s time to dispatch a social worker along with a “scared straight” type advocate. Determine what are the problems, document them, and try to set up a solution. Also, issue a warning that with each additional visit by police fines will start to be assessed (much like false alarm fees for security systems). If the people can’t afford to pay the fines they will be attached to the real estate. Landlords will be notified and will be assisted in moving out society’s problem children so that their investments aren’t destroyed. For the worst cases, the highest frequency offenders, they may be moved into public housing, separated and given “sponsors” to help them stop their anti-social behaviors.

The other way to work off fines, will be to do community service- not regulated by the courts, but by their local community. They will be required to work in neighborhood parks, attend neighborhood meetings and learn how to fit in, before they are forced to move out. Socialization between the strata of society is a solution that’s rarely attempted.

Of course, if none of this is working- bringing back public stocks, stoning, lashings and even scarlet letters may be better options. When Singapore decided to cane a punk named Michael Fay who was arrested for vandalizing, there was a huge outcry- but I guarantee little Mikey never wanted to get caught tagging again.

Speaking out, publishing our dirt

As usual, I’m going to be criticized for airing dirty laundry about our patch of heaven here in South Park. Just like pulling the covers off the dual attempts at regionalization behind closed doors, somehow not talking about these things in public so we can all work together on solving the problems is our preferred modus operandi in the place we call Dayton.

South Park was just one of a few neighborhoods in Dayton where property values as a whole went up in the recent re-appraisal. Yet, no credit is given to homeowners who have been forced to spend thousands more on security systems and monitoring to protect their investments from people our government is seemingly incapable of protecting us from.

One of our two patron saint investors, who has dumped millions of her own money into the neighborhood over the last five years, has been putting up camera systems and paying for high speed internet on her investment homes so she can monitor what was going on next door (you can see the three cameras on the house next door to Sizemore’s former abode). Where are the tax credits?

In an unwarranted segue

We all pay the costs of incarcerating low-lifes. I can tell you from experience that the kid I’ve been a “big brother” to over the last 24 years has had more spent on incarceration by the state than it would have cost to provide mental health services, drug and alcohol counseling and a college degree. In his last 3-year stint, courtesy of the no-nonsense judges of Greene County, he actually received drug and alcohol counseling and completed the first year of an associate’s degree with a 3.95 GPA at Noble Correctional Institution. He is now, sitting in Montgomery County Jail again- from a domestic violence charge, which has stopped him from attending Sinclair and completing his associate’s this quarter (the last before Sinclair switches to semesters and probably plays with his graduation requirements once again). Because of a “he said”/ “she said” charge, his prior record and a system that has no middle ground options, we, the taxpayers are going to get hosed once again. He’s looking at a year, but the last 30 days have already once again put him behind an eight ball of bills, missed work, lost opportunity. Never mind the fact that these two “lovebirds” have a baby on the way that will also be a drain on the system.

Our system of “criminal justice” isn’t working. Between well-meaning politicians creating more and more rules, penitentiaries filling up, drug-related crime continuing just like prohibition did little to stem the flow of alcohol, we’re fighting a losing battle.

Epilogue

Security cameras aren’t an answer. Neither are electing new pogues to do our biding. We need a complete, top-to-bottom rearrangement of how we all learn to just get along. While our national politicians are apt to throw out the words “class warfare” when talking about the widening gap between haves and have nots, or different political policy, the reality is that the war is already over. We’ve lost. We’ve managed to be the most incarcerated nation on the planet, while still lying to ourselves and calling this the “home of the brave, land of the free.”

When law-abiding citizens have to meet en masse to discuss how to get the system to solve the Ronald Lamont Sizemore problems in the community, we’ve now using up even more of our valuable social capital (and real capital for cameras) to remedy what our society is producing in record numbers: drains of resources.

It will only be fixed when we spend more on education than incarceration, more on health care than on health insurance, more on public infrastructure than public safety and less energy and money on political campaigns and more on political discourse and diplomacy.

It’s time to unlock our minds and open them to new and different ways to solve our problems. Locking them up and throwing away the key hasn’t been working for too long.

 

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10 Responses

  1. bobby September 28, 2011 / 10:31 am
     An immediate action that might help would be a credit and criminal history review before accepting people as tenants. I find it hard to believe that anyone would knowingly rent their property to someone who has stolen appliances from a prior landlord. A little due dilligence by rental owners could benefit the neighborhood.   

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  2. bobby September 28, 2011 / 10:37 am
     correction; due diligence

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  3. tg September 28, 2011 / 12:02 pm
    I read this a couple of hours ago and it’s still on my mind.  In part because I’ve been thinking about all of this for quite some time, but more so in light of recent events.   I’ve downloaded a paper from the Justice Dept but haven’t read it yet on the theory of restorative justice.   Most of the books on the topic are $60-100 textbooks and that’s not what I’m really interested in.  I’ve had brief conversations with Chief Biehl about it, who is well informed.

    It gets to what you’re discussing in the difference between your “little brother” getting some support & services vs the lock them up and throw away the key approach.   Punitive justice isn’t doing anything productive.   Often criminals learn how to hone their craft from other criminals in jail…although if they’re locked up, they clearly aren’t that good at what they are doing!    We are also removing them from a productive role in the economy or society.  Once they have a record, landlords (like me) won’t rent to them (out of respect for the neighbors) and employers won’t hire them.

    However, citizens who are victims, those who work hard for what they have should have recourse when their stuff is stolen, damaged or their homes & cars are violated.   Quite honestly, I’m happy paying taxes to have them locked up if it means my properties and my tenants’ belonging are secure as a result.   But, like you pointed out in the meeting last night, Sizemore is locked up but the petty theft continues.   A believe a lot of it is due to the economy right now.

    How does a prosecutor or judge determine who is likely to learn from their mistakes and choose a different path and who is likely to just work harder at not getting caught the next time?  Or is Sizemore one who is happier in jail and commits crimes as soon as he’s released just so he can go back to the routine & security of jail?   Quite honestly, if I had to listen to his girlfriend/wife/baby mama ragging at me all day, I’d find a refuge in jail as well.

    Do we write off Sizemore and focus on saving his kids?   Unfortunately, those kids now grow up thinking it’s normal for parents to be in jail – because that is what they know.   They think it’s normal for parents to stand on the front porch or yard and scream at the top of their lungs at each other.  They think stealing what you want instead of working to pay for it is normal.  That’s their world.   That’s all they know.    unless someone shows them a different way.

    According to Geoffrey Canada, as a society we think $5000/year is too much to spend on educating a child, but we think nothing of incarcerating prisoners for $37,000/year.  The latter is scalable, the former is not in the business world.   Our country locks up more of its citizens than any other country…and yet we still have crime.

    You brought up the difference between Greene & Montgomery County.  I think there are two key differences between the two.  Number 1, Greene County is VERY VERY Conservative – their judges & prosecutors are conservative and they don’t tolerate crime.  They are very tough on it.  As a result, criminals know to stay away from Greene County.  But the other issue that we don’t put much stock in is VOLUME.  I’m not making any excuses for Mat Heck’s office, but they are slammed with cases and there isn’t enough room in the jail or tax dollars to cover locking up everyone.    Montgomery County handles more caseload than Greene.   So what you lack in quanity, you can make up for with quality.

    Then there is the culture in his office – he only wants to take cases that are a slam dunk because his batting average means more than anything to him.   You talk privately and candidly to other leaders in the region and they will tell you he has more money than God so you can’t beat him in an election…and he’s vindictive as hell so if you try and lose, he’ll find ways to make your life miserable.   Other reports (don’t know if they are accurate or urban legend) are that there is a Gentlemen’s Agreement – Republicans get the Sheriff’s office and Democrats get the Prosecutors office – and they don’t run against each other.    Who knows?

    And then there is the landlord.  Yes Bobby – you would think landlords would do some due diligence to protect their investments, but Jan Singleton is a classic slumlord.  He owns 71 properties that I’m aware of, owes $297,000 in property taxes on all of them, plus another $21,500 in assessments such as mowing, boarding vacant properties, past due water bills, etc.   He is well known to the Auditor’s, Recorder’s, Treasurer’s and Housing Court’s and Police Department’ in the area – but there is a systemic glitch that allows him to somehow slip under the radar.   I’m told AJ Wagner once implemented a regulation that said if you owed back taxes on other properties, you couldn’t purchase new ones…it was struck down in court.

    So yes, we could vote for different judges & prosecutors – if offered a choice.  Yes we could do what citizens did yesterday, clean up the properties and deliver the trash to the doorsteps of the owners (be it US Bank or Jan Singleton), we can put up security systems (I rather would have invested in some new windows instead), and work with police to solve crimes.   South Park is SOOOOO FORTUNATE to have Shawn Smiley and John Dezorio working on our behalf. 

    What makes South Park special is that the neighbors could move or disengage, but instead they are fighting for control of their neighborhood.   My brother in law is a former cop and he always tells me criminals are like cockroaches, when you shine a light on them, they move on.  It’s the broken windows concept, as long as we continue to care for our properties, make repairs when they occur, and keep our eyes on the street, we will eventually win.  All we can do is make it very clear to the criminals and their landlords that we will not tolerate criminal activity.   Eventually they’ll move along to a neighborhood where the behavior is tolerated or accepted…and they do exist.     People will take the path of least resistance, if we make it difficult for them to do business (be in criminal activity or slumlord activity) in our neighborhood, they will move on.

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  4. Hall September 28, 2011 / 2:04 pm

    I think this is a token, make-people-feel-good gesture with no weight:

    “…to send a message to judges that light sentences aren’t options anymore for the criminally inclined.”

    Correct me if I’m wrong, but the prosecutor’s office only ‘recommends’ sentencing, right ? The judge can completely ignore them, consider it, etc, etc. Then, in the end, the sheriff can release prisoners early as they see fit too (non-violent offenders, for instance).

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  5. Larry Sizer September 28, 2011 / 6:43 pm
     
    Great article David, I am sorry to have missed last night’s South Park meeting, but as you so well know, Care Givers have different priorities, as I had wanted to know why there is not more American Flags hanging to the front of the houses in South Park. Where is yours? For years I have been stating CCTV at the Historic South Park, as well as to you personally, being scuffed at I might add by some of the small people at the meetings. I had stated that I never felt safe in my house completely, until I installed CCTV. What made me install CCTV?
     
    If memory serves you correctly, someone threw a bolder upside of my house, causing considerable damage that I had called the police; maybe ten (10) times or more before they finally came out to investigate. When they at long last arrived at my house, what is the first thing the police officer does, he picks up the cement hunk with his bare hands, contaminating the evidence, which I had been holding in a safe secure place. Just knowing I am the type person that is going to do any and everything to protect my life, family, and property, and not getting help from the Police like I had expected, I wasn’t born in a cave I installed CCTV and I will do what a guy’s got to do, if it comes to that point.
     
    Case in point, the church across the street had their AC compressor stolen, and was asked to build them a steel cage to secure it so it would not be stolen again. At that time I said Sister Doris, you just need a camera to secure it, with her responding that she didn’t want to see who took it, I want it built so they can’t take it. Which I did, drive down the alley in back of the church, right where the house meets Oak Street, and look at the cage I put around her AC compressor. It would take a chop saw, and a fork lift to move it.
     
    Then there was the time I had someone knock on my door around one o’clock in the morning, his left hand deep into his pocket. In a firm voice I told him that he was under surveillance with a video camera. He looked at it and walked off of the porch, and then my street camera showed the car and people that he got in and drove off. I reported it, and the Community Based Police was out right away, with me showing them the video, and printing out a picture of him for their archives. The police have asked for my assistance on more than one occasion.
     
    When I took the Neighborhood Leadership course with the City and Sinclair, we had a class with some lady with the police department talking about city issues. When it was time for questions and answers I asked if there was a program where the citizens could get some money back for installing CCTV, she said that she didn’t know of any program, and thought it a good idea if I recall right. Theresa Gasper, who was taking the class along with me, at break time I heard her say that CCTV is not a good thing as it shows the bad guys you have something of value in your house, or something to that effect. Anyway I am glad to hear that she is flip flopping on that statement.
     
      
     

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  6. TG September 28, 2011 / 8:33 pm
    Larry…not a flip flop on my part. At the Landlord TrIning course this past November, experts on crime prevention thru environmental design (CPTED) said you need to be cUtious about too much security such as cameras, bars on windows etc because it sends a message of fear and that there is a lot of crime in the area. That scares off good folks and attracts the bad ones

    I didn’t want to invest in cameras because they often will not provide an accurate enough identification and rarely catch the person in the act. I would rather have invested in energy efficient windows. I’m not terribly thrilled with how blatantly obvious the cameras are placed on 25 Johnson, as compared to the ones on Oak. But they have indeed proven useful

    I worry that it will be difficult to lease the house with them on it. I hope they will act as a deterrent to the landlord and tenants and any unwanted visitors. If they help calm things down and lead to any arrests it will be a good thing. But I still would have rather replaced the windows!!

    I hope your wife is doing well. Sending all my best to you both.

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  7. Ty B September 29, 2011 / 12:06 am

    Hidden due to low comment rating. Click here to see.

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  8. John Ise September 29, 2011 / 9:32 am
    Do less. Do it better. Get More.  Must read on this topic is Mark Klieman’s “When Brute Force Fails”.  Here’s his blurb:

    Crime, even after a decade of falling crime rates, remains a huge problem, and a major barrier to improving conditions in poor neighborhoods.   Mass incarceration – one American adult in 100 is now behind bars – constitutes a problem in its own right.  The challenge we face is how to shrink both problems at the same time. 

    Could the United States have half as much crime and half as many prisoners a decade from now?  Yes. 
    But not the way either liberals or conservatives normally think about the problem: not by building more prisons or “fixing root causes,” not through “zero tolerance” or “restorative justice,” not by “winning the drug war” or “ending prohibition,” not with “more guns, less crime” or national gun registration.
     The current system of randomized severity gets us the worst of all possible worlds:  high crime rates and mass incarceration.     
    The alternative approach that could cut both crime and incarceration rates depends on a few principles, simple in concept but requiring effective management: 

    Punishment is a cost, not a benefit.
    Swiftness and certainty are more effective than severity.
    A truly convincing threat doesn’t have to be carried out very often.
    A small proportion of the offenders account for most of the crime.
    Offenders need to be warned – personally and specifically – what it is that they’re not supposed to do  and what will happen if they keep doing it.
    Concentrating enforcement attention works better than dispersing it.
    Now that it is possible to monitor the location and drug use of probationers and parolees with portable GPS systems, many – perhaps most – of today’s prisoners could be safely managed in the community instead.  But that depends on the willingness and capacity to use short jail stays, delivered quickly and reliably, to sanction probation and parole violations.
    The primary goal of drug law enforcement should be to minimize crime and disorder around the drug markets, not to reduce the flow of drugs.
    Not every social program helps control crime.  But some demonstrably do:  nurse home visits, improved classroom discipline, shifting the school day later so that adolescents aren’t on the streets when there are lots of empty homes, reducing exposure to lead, substitution therapy (methadone and buprenorphine) for opiate addicts. 
    Social-services agencies need to be managed with crime control in mind, just as criminal-justice agencies need to be managed to help control disease and serve other non-crime-control purposes.

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  9. djw September 29, 2011 / 11:54 am
    I have a few minor disagreements with Kleinman on drug/alcohol policy stuff, but he’s about as smart as they come on just about every policy issue he’s studied. We’d be much, much better off if we listened to him a lot more than we do. The importance of swiftness and certainty over severity really can’t be overstated.

    (More evidence of his general smarts–based on a study of the length and trajectory of past property bubbles, he decided in 2006 it was time to cash out–sold his perfectly ordinary house in LA for something like $800K and moved into a rental. Like I said, smart guy…) 

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  10. Lynn October 30, 2011 / 9:58 am
    Hey David, since the landlord attended your neighborhood meeting, would you happen to have any contact information for him such as phone number and or email address?  Someone broke into his lovely Marathon Ave home and I want him to come board this rat hole.

    Ive already sent him a letter to his 4th St address if thats where he actually lives and Im not wasting postage stamps on creeps that sit in back of the housing court and lurk.

    If you want to email me on the low low thats cool.

    Peace Lynn

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