04/09/10 — Pay it back ... Perhaps there is a way to recoup some money spent on crime

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Pay it back ... Perhaps there is a way to recoup some money spent on crime

With the struggling economy and regular families doing the best they can to stay afloat, there seems to be only one place where there is a waiting list to get in and a great demand to reserve space -- jail.

In fact, with the time fast-approaching when there will be more talk of how to pay for the coming year's expenses, there will be a need for a discussion again about what to do with the filled-to-capacity jail.

And you know what that means ... more money out of the county's coffers (AKA, your tax money) to build a new one.

It is good news in one sense -- more criminals in the jail means there are fewer on the streets -- and who could argue with that.

But the fact is that housing these men and women, paying their food and medical costs, not to mention the money that has to go into making sure they are supervised, is an expensive proposition.

There are lots of people who will say that the increase in the jail population is a direct result of the downturn in the economy. Nonsense. Being poor does not make you a criminal. Being dishonorable does.

So here's a thought ... an idea that someone somewhere ought to consider.

Perhaps we are thinking of this incorrectly. Perhaps the idea of rights for inmates and criminals has gone a little too far to the marshmallow and away from the punishment.

Perhaps if jail were even more of a bad experience -- and one that is full of work and responsibilities -- there might not be such a rush to get there and more of a reason to slow down and think before taking the risky step of committing a crime.

Why couldn't there be a work program for those who commit crimes and end up in the county jail -- a real work program?

There is plenty to do around this county -- cleaning sewers, collecting trash, mowing grass -- and there might even be some work that can be done inside the jail itself.

And then, after you have served your sentence, why shouldn't there be a bill to pay off to the county -- a requirement that you cover 50 percent of the cost of your incarceration?

And if you do not get a job and do something other than get back in trouble -- bingo, more time and a tougher work schedule.

It is not like this is a new idea -- they used to call them chain gangs. And it is not like the county jail staff is running a country club. They do their best with what they have.

But it might be an interesting area to explore further -- and to solicit new ideas for dealing with an old problem.

Creating a situation where people are doing everything they can not to be in jail, thus decreasing the population, seems to be a much better alternative than simply building more rooms.

Published in Editorials on April 9, 2010 11:10 AM