Tuesday, April 17, 2007

Truth, Justice, and the American Way

Jail Cells"You get all the justice you are willing to pay for"

Last Wednesday was our most recent Leadership Ann Arbor day, Justice and Law Enforcement Day. I had a two-part series a couple of weeks ago about my homework for this day, my ride-along with Officer Dye.

This was, arguably, the most interesting day of the series for me thus far. And I couldn't even tell you exactly why.

We met at the Chamber offices first thing in the morning for a quick overview of the day. We then split into three groups, each with its own tour destination. One group went to Cassidy Lake, a boot camp-like alternative minimum security facility primarily focused on young men and women from 18 through their mid-twenties. The second attended Dawn Farm, a facility which helps those with chemical dependencies in a farm-like setting.

I was in the third group. We actually got to see two different locations, the Washtenaw County Jail and the Juvenile Detention facilities, right across the parking lot from each other.

I don't know what I expected when I walked into the jail. We as a society have so many images of jails as places of violence and cruelty. What I saw when we visited had only one incident of what could be loosely described as violence. For the most part, I got the impression of people just doing the best they could.

But let me start at the beginning.

When we arrived, Lieutenant Gary Greenfield greeted us and led us on a tour of the facilities. He told us that the jail had been built almost forty years ago. The archaic analog and mechanical controls bore silent proof of that. At its opening, it had capacity for around 200 inmates. As years passed by, the county "upgraded" that to its current level of 332. One aspect of those upgrades included turning the gymnasium into dorm-like facilities with rows of bunks. Despite this increase, though, the jail still suffers from overcrowding, regularly holding between 350 and 400 inmates.

And here is where the quote at the beginning of this post comes in.

According to Michigan's Jail Emergency Overcrowding Act, if a state of overcrowding exists for more than 30 days, local judges review the existing inmates in order to recommend those who should receive a 30% reduction in sentence. If that doesn't relieve the overcrowding, Sheriff Dan Minzey is required to reduce all sentences by 30%. So, an inmate who had served nine months of a one-year sentence would be released. If this still didn't solve the problem, then the jail would go into a lock-down situation. Lock-down means that only those committing certain capital crimes could be given jail time.

I don't recall any specific ballot issues which I voted against, but I know I probably had the mindset of "Why spend anything on them? They're criminals". Now I have a clearer picture of the consequences of that attitude. No one thinks they want a jail in their community and they rarely want to pay to house those nasty people near them.

Guess what? If we don't pay, if we don't show support for our corrections department, then we don't have to worry about an institution full of criminals in our midst.

Those criminals will be walking the streets.

Makes you think, right?

More tomorrow on my visit and the rest of Law Enforcement Day.

So, have you ever gone on a tour of a correctional facility? What did you think?

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