An August story in the Gazette detailed a plan to ask Greene County residents to increase our sales tax to build a new, larger jail. I attended the public hearing last week on this plan. I came intending to speak, but did not because almost everyone who spoke expressed my same concerns—wanting less, not more, community members jailed and wanting bail reform, so that no one is in jail because of their income. My concern now is with the responses I heard from the commissioners and the sheriff.
I heard from the commissioners that there was nothing they could do about bail reform, because the judges, not the commissioners, have the power to make the change. Cash bail is inherently unjust and at least one of the commissioners seemed to agree. Why aren’t they willing to advocate for it?
One of the commissioners said that this was not the time to talk about these reforms. He said we need to build a new, bigger jail, and then we can talk about how to reduced the jailed population. How is this a judicious use of our tax dollars?
I heard anecdotal stories of a person’s life being saved, because they couldn’t overdose while in jail, without any acknowledgment that when people who are suffering from addiction are released from jail the danger of overdose is significantly increased. The sheriff shared an anecdotal story that described a woman exhibiting symptoms of postpartum psychosis and how jailing her was the way to save her baby from harm. We know that jail is not the best place to treat those with addiction and mental illness. Why aren’t we talking about better services for addiction and mental health in our communities to reduce the number of community members who are jailed?
One community member spoke about the consultant’s recommendation to have a group comprised of representatives of the local justice system, including the county commission, prosecutor, and judges, to be tasked with crafting reforms to reduce the jailed population. One commissioner said there is a group comprised of those people, and he sits on it. Does this group have a list of reforms enacted or to enact in a new facility to reduce the jailed population?
The sheriff said there is need for more space to accommodate cleaning and maintenance of living areas. Why does that space have to be more bed space? Can increased programming and recreation space, which were also mentioned, be used to accommodate cleaning and maintenance?
I heard no commitment or plan to make our justice system more fair, less damaging to families, and a more judicious use of our tax dollars. The sheriff said he would “pray that the beds wouldn’t fill” in the new larger jail. I expect more from our county leaders. I will not support new taxes for a jail, until there is bail reform and a plan for using our tax dollars in ways that support our community and make us safer.