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Revolving jail door frustrates justice system

Dec 22, 2012 | 10 Comments


By JEFF BARNARD
Of the Associated Press

EUGENE — A scenario that police in western Oregon feared came true in the thick of holiday season after two dozen inmates were freed from a county jail that could no longer afford to hold them.

Less than an hour after one low-level offender walked out, authorities say, he was demanding that a bank teller hand over money.

In a time of budget cuts, cases where inmates get out of jail with little punishment only to commit more serious crimes shortly after their release have become all too common, authorities say.

Many in law enforcement predicted this would happen, and it could get worse if the nation goes over the so-called fiscal cliff.

The recession and a steady reduction in federal subsidies to timber counties have led Oregon sheriffs and district attorneys to juggle deep cuts. There are fewer jail beds, sheriff's patrols, prosecutors, parole officers and specialized investigators.

Prosecutors have to toss out more than a quarter of the cases that cross their desks, just because there aren't enough people to handle them.

“It makes me crazy,” said Patricia Perlow, chief deputy district attorney for Lane County.

When Christopher Franklin Weaver was released the week after Thanksgiving it represented the sort of decision that has become routine for law enforcement officials. There wasn't enough room for all the offenders, and since he was in custody on a nonviolent parole violation, he was deemed safe enough to turn loose.

“Everybody we're releasing is dangerous to society,” said Lane County Sheriff Tom Turner. “But we're having to choose which ones to keep and which ones to let out.”

As common as such lesser-of-two-evils calls have become, authorities could find themselves making them more often depending on what happens in the nation's capital. If the ongoing budget negotiations between Republican House Speaker John Boehner and President Barack Obama end without an agreement and automatic spending reductions kick in, it would trigger an 8 percent cut in nearly $2 billion in federal grants that go to state and local law enforcement.

That would come on top of $1.5 billion cuts to federal law enforcement grants since fiscal 2010, said Elizabeth Pyke, director of government affairs for the National Criminal Justice Association.

“It would not be unreasonable to envision a day in the not too distant future when federal support for state and local law enforcement will be virtually eliminated,” she said.

As the details get worked out, the grants could take even deeper cuts, as appropriators shift funding to higher priority agencies such as the FBI. Over the next nine years of the Budget Control Act of 2011, the slashes would become deeper and deeper.

“Every time we have a budget cut, we have to get creative,” said Lane County sheriff's Sgt. Rob White. “But we're getting pretty good at it.”

In Oregon timber country, where voters have consistently refused to raise taxes to make up for sharp revenue drops, jail commanders already are making the best use they can of a protocol affectionately known as “the RAT.”

Their risk assessment tool ranks inmates based on nearly 80 questions about their criminal history and other factors to predict how likely they are to reoffend.

Weaver's ranking put him in the middle of the 30 released that day. After holding up the bank, he walked out with nearly $500 stuffed in his back pocket, authorities say.

Police spotted him on the street within minutes, and after a foot chase, Weaver was back in jail, where he is not likely to be let out any time soon — there is plenty of room, according to officials, for someone facing a federal bank robbery charge.

Weaver remains in custody and was not available for comment. He has not been indicted on the most recent arrest and has not been asked to enter a plea. His next court date has not been scheduled.

Repeated attempts to reach his lawyer, Craig E. Weinerman, for comment were not successful.

Former Coburg police officer Michael Anson regularly brought criminal suspects to the Lane County Jail.

“I'd bring somebody in the back door, and watch ‘em walk out the front,” he said.

Now he owns a metal fabrication business, which has been hit by two burglaries, neither of which he bothered to report because he figured nothing would happen. When crime hits, he said, “you deal and adjust.”

For Perlow, the county's chief assistant prosecutor, further cuts would be untenable.

“Unless somebody buys a winning Powerball ticket and donates it to the county,” she said. “We are going to need a secure continuous funding source.”

---

AP reporter Matt Yancey in Washington, D.C. contributed to this report.

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Comments

04:30 am - Sun, December 23 2012
troy prouty said:
I think the re-offend rate stays about 1 out of 3,

The irony of course is people complaining about taxes so cuts happen, then they complain of the consequences.

America does a really lousy job of reality and consequence..

Maybe that is why everyone is so much in debt. If most americans knew how poor they really were, maybe things would change on that front as well.

troy*
05:43 am - Sun, December 23 2012
Dances with Redwoods said:
"America does a really lousy job of reality and consequence.. ."

Maybe the consequence needs to change. Perhaps if there were more one-armed-bandits walking the streets of America, we'd have fewer re-offenders.
06:57 am - Sun, December 23 2012
Dances with Redwoods said:
Now, if you will, Troy, take a moment to imagine just how compliant, courteous and conscientious any re-offender would become not too long after facing reality.

Any thoughts?
06:10 am - Mon, December 24 2012
troy prouty said:
Well,

It depends on two classes of society. For true change to happen, it will need to come both. For example. We in society tell people stop committing crime, get a job, why telling society not to hire them. Thus.. it becomes a consequence of itself. Obviously not all criminal behavior can be reformed. I believe we can do better, but it takes both societies.

Minnesota has done a much better job it appears through peace circles, letting everyone have a voice instead of a lame courtroom..

I also think if we were to adapt a requirement of things like betterpeople.org it would help.

BUT it won't deal with the society that judges and won't hire them. We know if people with legal history have a job, stable history, active in community, and have went through cognitive programs (like better people).. re-offend rate is very low. the less of these they have the more they re-offend.

jails and prisons don't address why a crime was committed, it just makes it so you can't do it you are there.

troy*
10:30 am - Wed, December 26 2012
Dances with Redwoods said:
"jails and prisons don't address why a crime was committed, it just makes it so you can't do it you are there."

What if a thief were offered the choice to forfeit the use of an arm for some period of time (if not permanently) in lieu of ..or.. rather than time spent incarcerated, at the taxpayers expense.

What if violent people (ie. murderers, rapists, kidnappers and such) were to lose the use of both arms for some period of time (if not permanently) so as to render them less dangerous.

I like your 'peace circle' idea, though, perhaps we might also reconsider what is considered to be 'cruel & unusual'.
05:27 pm - Wed, December 26 2012
troy prouty said:
You mean like they do in some countries.. If you steal, lose a hand?

I'm not very big into violence, and to me that seems a violent act. I wouldn't want someone's arm cut off to realize opps.. wrong guy..

I believe if the community was to be involved (have things taken out of courts) and people took more interest outside of themselves holding each other accountable, crime would be reduced by more than half. We don't need to cut off arms, only being active outside themselves. Granted it is difficult from a world that seems so self absorbed. But like I have always said .. I don't give up..

troy*
08:42 pm - Wed, December 26 2012
Dances with Redwoods said:
"You mean like they do in some countries.."

No, not like that at all, that would be barbaric. I am not thinking of amputations or anything else that cannot be undone, just trying to think outside the box, that's all.

04:29 am - Thu, December 27 2012
troy prouty said:
it certainly isn't easy without use of a limb.. I had surgery on my right wrist in early November and haven't been able to use it since (Dominate side).. so.. but even so.. if you would have such a thing.. it would require more people to take care of them. For example.. there are task I can't do right now, others are having to help. Certain containers can't be opened.. If they can't feed themselves, others might have too..

troy*
08:08 am - Thu, December 27 2012
Dances with Redwoods said:
".. ....If they can't feed themselves, others might have too.. ...."

oH?
11:37 am - Thu, December 27 2012
Dances with Redwoods said:
No doubt the idea wouldn't work for everyone. There is no one-size-fits-all solution to address the problem.
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