Friday, February 17, 2012

County official calls for a different approach to fight crime

When it's hurricane season, Harris County Judge Ed Emmett is the one telling everyone it's time to "hunker down." He and the mayor of Houston will stand in front of the cameras at the Transtar headquarters on the nights the general managers of the local stations have wet dreams about because everyone is watching for news of the approaching storm.

Now, for those of y'all who aren't from Texas, the County Judge isn't really a judge. That's just the term given to the person who presides over the county commissioners' court. Of course every once in a while you get a county judge who thinks he really is a judge...

The other day Mr. Emmett delivered his state of the county speech to a handpicked group of local business leaders and county employees. In it, the conservative Republican talked about using a different approach to fighting crime.
And at a time when healthcare is a national and state issue, Harris County simply must lead the way, in providing our indigent population with medical homes that provide preventive care. And a county and as a society, we must constantly search for ways to assist those among us with mental health and/or substance abuse issues. Better delivery of services to this segment of our population, will not only make for a better society. It will lessen the pressure on our jails and our hospitals.
Mr. Emmett's remarks continue a trend by which conservative thought-leaders are rethinking the way our criminal (in)justice system should work. They are selling these new ideas as a budget-cutting device. It costs money to build and maintain jails.

You put a liberal or progressive before the public talking about attacking the root causes of crime and using alternative strategies to deal with young and first-time offenders and the speaker will be mocked for being "soft on crime." Make the same argument but emphasize the way in which alternative approaches will cost taxpayers less money down the road and you're a visionary.

Mr. Emmett understands that many folks who end up in the criminal (in)justice system are there because of substance abuse issues or mental health problems. Finding low-cost ways of providing treatment on the front end may very well reduce the expense on the back-end.

Finding new ways to handle first-time and young offenders without locking them up in the county jail will ease overcrowding issues and obviate the "need" for a new jail facility. Increasing the use of personal bonds and pretrial release will allow more folks to continue with their lives while fighting their cases.

It's time to take another look at how our criminal (in)justice system works, and doesn't work. It's time we were honest with ourselves and looked harder at alternative approaches that don't involve incarceration.

Mr. Emmett's looking in the right direction.

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