We need to end jail overcrowding

We need to end jail overcrowding

Posted: Friday, December 21, 2012 7:00 pm

By THE TENNESSEAN
If nothing else, Tennessee’s incarceration problem is a matter of physics: If you pack too many people into too small a space, that space is going to burst at the seams.
That should not be that hard to understand; so why do we continue to jam state prisoners and county inmates into facilities that are too small for long periods of time?
The Tennessean reported it on Dec. 10: Nearly half of the state’s 109 jails have more inmates than beds, and some jails have three times the number of inmates they are certified to hold. Many Tennesseans don’t care if criminals are forced to sleep on floors or otherwise be uncomfortable.
OK, granted. But will you care when there is a fire or a riot that results in injuries and possibly death to the guards and other county and state personnel who work in these crammed cages?
General apathy can be the only real explanation for the overcrowding, since officials in law enforcement, corrections and the courts have several good ideas about how to ease the situation — but none of these ideas gets any traction in Tennessee.
Instead, we reject any suggestions other than “lock the door and throw away the key.” That’s an attitude that may feel satisfying and sound tough, but it lacks any common sense. …
Our state is years behind the curve in addressing these serious and dangerous correctional problems. State Correction commissioner Derrick Schofield, for example, and many of the sheriffs who must jail these inmates understand that alternative sentencing, such as use of drug courts and community supervision for nonviolent offenders, would take much of the pressure off. …
It’s not that hard to do. You simply realize that even if the prisoners are, by your standards, not people but animals, they still touch the lives of real people.
That’s reason enough to seek an end to jail overcrowding — now, and not after a terrible tragedy occurs.
Published in The WCP 12.20.12

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