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Review: Small Indiana county sends more people to prison than San Francisco and Durham combined

Josh Keller and Adam Pearce, “This small Indiana county sends more people to prison than San Francisco and Durham, NC, combined. Why?” The New York Times, 2Sep16. http://www.nytimes.com/2016/09/02/upshot/new-geography-of-prisons.html?_r=0, accessed 2Sep16.

This review can well be read in conjunction, and by way of contrast, with the Gadsden County articles starting here.

Summary

Donnie Gaddis of Dearborn County, IN, was caught with 15 oxycodone pills and ended being sentenced to 12 years in prison—even after pleading guilty.

If Mr. Gaddis had been caught 20 miles to the east, in Cincinnati, he would have received a maximum of six months in prison… In San Francisco or Brooklyn, he would probably have received drug treatment or probation, lawyers say.

Hearing about this case, Philip Stephens, a public defender in Cincinnati exclaimed:

Years? Holy Toledo—I’ve settled murders for a lot less than that.

Rural areas tend to send more people to prison than do urban areas. Dearborn County represents American heartland, “mostly white, rural and politically conservative.” While the prison population (and private for-profit prisons) are declining in the rest of the country, that’s not the case in Dearborn.

The heroin (and opioid) epidemic is indeed serious; we fear its consequences. But while it is being treated more as a disease and public health crisis elsewhere, arrest and imprisonment is still the primary deterrent in some locales.

Aaron Negangard is the elected public prosecutor in Dearborn County—his authority comes directly from the people. His perspective on drugs and imprisonment are as follows:

I am proud of the fact that we send more people to jail than other counties. That’s how we keep it safe here…. My constituents are the people who decide whether I keep doing my job. The governor can’t make me. The legislature can’t make me.

Although Dearborn County consists of a beautiful connection of “small quiet towns along the Ohio River,” and although violent crime is very rare here, it still has this extraordinary rate of incarceration.

Counties throughout rural and suburban America have resisted efforts to reduce incarceration, especially in a prison belt stretching from Texas to Indiana.

Dearborn County has more than quadrupled the number of people it sends to prison since 2003.

By 2014, Dearborn County sentenced more people to prison than San Francisco or Westchester County, NY, which each have, at least, 13 times as many people.

“It’s government run amok,” said Douglas A. Garner, a local criminal defense attorney.

High rising costs of incarceration did lead state legislators to reduce criminal penalties in Indiana, beginning in 2014. But this shift has not done much to the incarceration rates in Dearborn County.

An example of Negangard’s keeping the county safe would be the case of Mr. Scott Huy, 36. He was enticed by a police informer to come from Cincinnati to sell seven grams of heroin to a police undercover officer. He’s been sentenced to 35 years. About Huy’s sentence San Francisco public defender, Jeff Adachi, says:

That is so far out of line with the crime itself and any common notion of decency.

That the cost of drug treatment is high and resources for such are scarce must be admitted. But the cost of incarceration may be higher in the long run. Dearborn County officials “spent $11.5 million to double the size of the local jail and approved $11 million more to expand the county courthouse.”

At least 225 of the 250 inmates in the Dearborn County jail have a drug addiction, estimated Jonathan L. Cleary, a county judge. But the drug treatment programs can serve only about 40 of them.

Even public prosecutor Aaron Negangard sees the need for more money for drug treatment. However, he says about half the prisoned addicts have a criminal mindset, and whether clean or not, would continue committing crimes. “We can’t just let the bad guys go,” he concludes.

Questions for Reflection and Discussion

  1. Are you concerned about the high rate of imprisoned persons in the country? Do you know anything about the racial/ethnic prison population percentages?
  2. Do you have a family member or friend in the prison system?
  3. What have you read or seen about what’s been called “mass incarceration?” Have you had a chance to discuss this with any group or action organization?
  4. In your opinion, what should be the balance between punishment (retributive justice) and rehabilitation (restorative justice) in our jails and prisons?
  5. What might be some basic steps in improving the criminal justice system?

Implications

  1. Our overloaded prison system threatens the health of especially poor families, poor communities and the health of our nation as a whole.
  2. Consider the following statement in The Washington Post: “It’s a stark fact that the United States has less than 5 percent of the world’s population, yet we have almost 25 percent of the world’s total prison population. The numbers today are much higher than they were 30, 40 years ago despite the fact that crime is at historic lows.”

In response to this statement, Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.) said on March 9, 2015: “This was a seemingly unbelievable figure that turned out to be correct. This widely cited statistic about the U.S. share of prisoners compared to other countries recently earned the rare Geppetto Checkmark by The Fact Checker.

Hillary Clinton added: “Not only does the current overpopulated, underfunded system hurt those incarcerated, it also digs deeper into the pockets of taxpaying Americans.

This Washington Post article probes all the factors that may contribute to such mass incarceration and concludes, “Even when adjusting for other factors, such as crime victimization, social service spending and economic development, the U.S. incarcerates people at a higher rate than other countries.”

  1. Excessive or mass incarceration must be seen in a picture bigger than (sometimes) unfair arrests, trials and incarceration. Families weakened without fathers, poor education, un- and underemployment, and racial bias, all enter into this complex matter our society must address.
  2. In contrast to the efforts in Gadsden County stories, there seems to be no or little collaboration between the criminal justice system in Dearborn with its schools and churches. Such cooperation is highly cost-efficient, preventive, and has proven to be successful.

Dean Borgman

© 2017 CYS

Further source used: Michelle Ye Hee Lee (7July2015) “Yes, U.S. locks people up at a higher rate than any other country, The Washington Post, https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/fact-checker/wp/2015/07/07/yes-u-s-locks-people-up-at-a-higher-rate-than-any-other-country/, accessed 2Sep16.

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