Archived Story

Old problem will require new ideas

Published 5:21am Sunday, January 20, 2013

In medieval times, housing prisoners was cheap. It didn’t cost anything to toss someone in a dungeon and maybe offer some scraps of food from time to time. The gallows, the stocks and the headsman’s block stayed busy.

Thankfully, the Dark Ages are long since passed and we, as a society, are not as barbaric. We must treat those who break our laws better and even the worst transgressions do not strip someone of basic human rights.

Bread and water is not enough to feed them. A dark, locked space the size of a closet is unacceptable. Basic level of medical care has to be provided.

But, this is also why keeping criminals in jail and prison has become such a costly proposition.

The necessity of providing humane treatment of prisoners won’t — and shouldn’t — change. But that certainly doesn’t mean these individuals can’t be asked to do more to share the burden of the cost and give back to society.

The Lawrence County Commissioners did the right thing by reversing its actions and strengthening the Lawrence County Sheriff’s Office and the 911 center. The other component that continues to be a significant cost to Lawrence County taxpayers is operating the jail.

There is no simple solution.

Closing it down is not an option as we have to have somewhere to keep criminals off the streets and sending them to other counties costs more. Building a new facility or taking over an existing one like the now shuttered department of youth services prison in Franklin Furnace is likely too expensive.

Any solutions that arise will have to be innovative and “outside the box.” The county certainly started down this path last year with the creation of the work farm that uses inmates to grow crops to offset food costs at the jail and benefit local food pantries. The county judges also recently took a positive step in sending more inmates to be held in prisons until moved elsewhere, shifting more of the burden back to the state.

Now is a good time to start looking at other states and what types of programs are available.

Could inmates work on county and state road projects, saving in labor expenses and bringing in state funds? Could they work in conjunction with municipal court’s community service program to maintain parks, cleanup trash and help to beautify the community? Could work programs help businesses take advantage of cheap labor while providing training? Could inmates provide janitorial services for county offices and maybe even other area businesses?

All these ideas and most others have potential roadblocks, but the important thing is that we continue to look for new ways to address a very old problem.



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