End the frequent flyers at the county jail

I’m pretty sure that if someone focused on our local jail population, we’d find a core group of people who seem stuck in a revolving door. I know one of them all too well, I’ve been a “big brother” for the last 26 years.

In the last month, he’s been a guest of the taxpayers twice at costs to society that aren’t being clearly calculated. The standing number of $65 a day for room and board at the jail is just the tip of the iceberg, all the money spent on the police officers’ time to arrest, do paperwork, show up in court- the costs of the prosecutors, judges, bailiffs, the time he loses from work- all add up to a lot more money than we realize.

And in the end- it doesn’t work.

We may find him guilty of public intox, resisting arrest, trespassing, “obstruction” (whatever that means) and a slew of other charges that are all minor misdemeanors. We may fine him- for which he doesn’t have the resources to pay, we may lock him up some more- which costs us more money and cuts his income and employability to even less, and in the end, we’ve not solved a damned thing.

And while we can point fingers and say if he wasn’t so stupid, he wouldn’t keep getting into these situations, the question is how stupid are we for not trying to solve the root problems?

Just getting rid of “the box” on employment applications as Judge Wagner likes to talk about on the campaign trail isn’t going to solve the problem for our frequent flyers- it won’t take long after securing a job that they will be missing work due to a visit to the county guest quarters on W. 2nd Street.

The problems are deeper than we’re willing to tackle. Being a minority increases his chances of getting hauled downtown on minor BS. I know this only too well- a neighbor who is blonde, buxom and beautiful recently got pulled over on I75 heading home from Covington because her “tail lights were out.” The cop administered a field sobriety test, which she supposedly passed- but, he didn’t give her a ticket – just a warning, then drove her to Waffle House to be picked up by a friend (me- at 3 a.m.). Out of his own curiosity he asked her to blow- to calibrate his performance on the field sobriety test- it was a .86- so she was legally drunk. This wouldn’t have happened to my little brother- it would have been “go to jail, go directly to jail, do not pass go, do not collect $200.” Note- this would have been her third DUI and could have caused loss of license and job. Also note- it wasn’t that the tail lights were out- it was that the lights were off- she was driving without headlights, too.

Besides the minority rap, the arresting officer sees the record of a suspect in the field. Once you show up as a frequent flyer- decorum goes out the window. In the latest arrest- he was beaten. He claims after the cuffs were on. Does he have a defense- of course not. Does this decrease respect for authority and cause deeper emotional distrust and damage- yes. What is the solution? Probably it’s going to end up requiring all police officers to wear video cameras and record every interaction- and to me, this can’t happen soon enough- to protect both parties. Supposedly, my idiot has an audio recording of the altercation. Right now- I don’t have time to dig into this, nor, after years of this kind of stupidity do I really want to. I’ve gone to bat too many times for him and gotten burned with half-truths and misrepresentations.

But, what can and should we do? I’d say a coordinated effort at handling these frequent flyers would be a better solution. Instead of jail and prosecution for minor charges, send them to camp. A diversionary voluntary program where you stay until you get sober or calmed down, and then placed into a treatment program that requires AA meetings, community service and assigned a case worker to try to deal with the multiple issues that are causing the bad behavior. This includes psychological counseling, job counseling, mentorship, and if needed, grants or low-interest loans to help solve immediate issues. Believe it or not- paying to fix a car to get to work may be cheaper than paying for jail and prosecution.

We’ve got too many people stuck in a cycle of failure to which our legal system isn’t the answer. Hopefully the Affordable Care Act may make mental health treatment more accessible to those who may need it most. On the other hand, maybe we need to pioneer a program like AA for social misfits who can’t seem to fit in (although I do believe most of them have substance abuse issues).

We can’t fault the police for “doing their job” – but, the system seems to be causing itself more problems than it’s helping in these repeat offenders of minor crime because that’s really not what the system is meant for. I’d feel better if just the murderers, thieves and dangerous people were in the system and the annoying ones were being taught new habits.

As a reference point: He’s been incarcerated twice for 3 years each time. The first, there was no training or counseling and he was back in prison within 2 years. The second time, he went through alcohol treatment and got a full year of college in- with a 3.99 gpa. He’s currently a few credits short of graduating from Sinclair, but has been unable to complete due to recurring issues with the law and his poor financial and time-management skills. He has a GED. He’s also the father of 3 by two different women and has another bun in the oven. This is par for the revolving door types. It’s time to replace that revolving door with a more efficient system that actually delivers outcomes we, as a society, want.

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