Pubdate: Mon, 01 Mar 2004
Source: Columbia Daily Tribune (MO)
Copyright: 2004 Columbia Daily Tribune
Author: Henry J. Waters III
Note: Prints the street address of LTE writers.


Working On The Problem

The Boone County Jail remains overbooked. With the aid of a good task force,
local officials study ways to relieve the pressure.

The financial strain is serious. Already this year the county has paid
nearly $80,000 to out-of-county jails for room and board. Almost any
conceivable option would be less expensive.

Most favorable would be reducing the numbers of people sentenced to
jail. Instead, in recent years, law-'n'-order guidelines instead have
resulted in more incarceration, putting pressure on jail space
everywhere. Now moves are afoot, particularly in Boone County, to find

Local drug and mental health courts divert offenders from jail,
substituting focused intervention and counseling. In years past, many
or most of these people languished in jail, taking up expensive space
and getting little or no rehabilitative help.

Many jail inmates await trial. They have been arrested but not yet
convicted of any crime. They are in jail only because they can't make
bail to be released. The only reason for jailing these people is to
ensure they will show up for trial or will not commit additional
crimes in the meantime.

In the past, Sheriff Ted Boehm has suggested the courts release more
of these people without bond - on their own recognizance - or on
reduced bond. He believed the consequences would be benign and the
number of inmates sitting in jail could be reduced

Courts, however, contend every detainee's case is carefully evaluated
and bond amounts are not too high.

Courts are bound to err on the side of caution. The last thing they
want is for a released offender to commit a crime. In many cases, they
set high bail amounts as much to keep suspects in jail as to provide a
means for them to go free before trial.

There are two sides to this. I think courts could be more lenient with
bonding, not only to relieve jail populations but as a matter of
individual rights. As a general principle, people should not be kept
in jail without having been provided due process of law and proved
guilty. However, I believe local court evaluations are diligent and
most citizens probably favor caution. If this means we have several
more people in jail regularly, so be it.

Regularly, certain offenders who otherwise would be in jail are housed
in nearby Reality House, a lower-cost, lower-security facility.
Officials are considering adding to Reality House. Short of diverting
inmates from jail altogether, this is the best solution to crowding
and would be another step in developing our commendable system of
local community corrections services as alternatives to prison.

The jail crowding problem persists. Good evaluation is under way. Good
options are on the table. We can expect a reasonable outcome.

Henry J. Waters III, Publisher, Columbia Daily Tribune
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