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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