A Jeffersonian In East Texas

January 10, 2008

Does Smith County Need A Jail Or A Fence?

Filed under: Uncategorized — ajeffersonian @ 1:32 am
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The original posting of the following story was in response to a story in the local newspaper concerning problems in the Smith county jail. Like much of the other media attention given to the jail in Smith county Texas, the story focused on the bad conditions and the need for a new facility, and ignored other, more important aspects of the problem. As in many of our societies most perplexing and difficult situations, much of main stream media becomes partially responsible, perhaps even unknowingly political (that is “unknowingly” if you allow them the benefit of the doubt) in the process. This was our response. I include it here because it has bearing on more recent events and posts.

Originally posted by ajeffersonian at 11/6/2007
If you haven’t been arrested yet, they just haven’t gotten around to it!

The local paper carried the story on Sunday “JAILHOUSE BLUES”, but this is, as Paul Harvey says, “The Rest of the Story.” Well, at least as much of it as I have time to write. The people of Smith county showed incredible good sense in turning down the first jail proposals, ostensibly for tax reasons, which was, bye 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 states 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?

I know the last two things I mentioned are crimes under the law, and since something has to be done about that, I have an idea that might help. One of our judges suggested something along the lines of having these people, after they have gone to court, report on a daily basis for something like a day jail. That is a step in the right direction. We live in a day when it is possible to send a missile down a stovepipe, and locate almost anyone almost any time with a global positioning system Why cant we put a tracker on anyone who might be a flight risk, and give them at least, an opportunity to be productive? Expensive? Yes, but not as expensive as locking them away! If the records are correct, doing this would eliminate more than half the inmates in the county jail!

Sheriff Smith says he just want 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!

For more on the jail situation check out http://gritsforbreakfast.blogspot.com

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