The economic effect on prisons, jails and our judicial system

It gets cold in Washington, DC.  Not as bitter cold as Chicago perhaps, but it gets pretty darn cold in the nation’s capital.  Just before Christmas 2008, I was standing at a bus stop at the West Falls Church metro station.  It was frigid!  I was bundled up in my down jacked, gloves and cap and was still shivering.  I noticed a guy with long hair, black slacks, dress shoes and a white T-shirt.  Obviously, he was freezing.  He was actually shivering in another bus shelter but when my bus came, he decided to get on that instead.  I noticed that he showed a slip of paper to the driver and then got on without paying.

After we started rolling, I asked him in Spanish, “Where are your clothes?”  He looked at me strangely and I rephrased my question in my best Spanglish, “Where is your jacket?”  He told me that he speaks English.  So, I repeated in English, “Where is your jacket?”  He told me that he just got out of jail and didn’t have a jacket.

Get out of jail FREE card

During out 15 minute bus ride to Reston Town Center, he explained to me that he was put in jail in June when the weather was warm.  He was actually admitted to Arlington County jail but was subsequently transferred to Fairfax County jail.  In the process, all of his belongings were still at Arlington.  But, even if he had his cell phone it wouldn’t do him any good because he was sure the service has been disconnected by now, after all this time.

Without going into a lot of details, he said that he had broken up with his girlfriend and went back to their apartment to collect his belongings when the landlord called the police and they busted him for breaking and entering.  Since he didn’t have money for an attorney, they held him in jail until the sentencing.  Six months later, they simply released him from jail.  Since it was a week before Christmas, he figured the judge had the Christmas spirit and decided to let him go early.

County jails cannot afford to keep inmates

Well, if you ask me, it wasn’t no Christmas spirt or gift to let the guy out when they did and the way they did.  I’ll explain…

As we approached Reston Town Center, I asked him where he was going to stay, what were his plans, where was he going to work.  He told me that he didn’t have any plans because he didn’t plan to get released so soon, it happened suddenly and unexpectedly.  He didn’t have a place to stay but he had a cousin in Reston that he was going to try to find in the phone book.  He tried to call his old workplace but everybody he knew at the restaurant has been laid off.  I asked him if he had any money and he said about $20.

So, here is my question to society and the judicial system.  WTF?

Judicial system encourages repeat offenders

You release a guy in the middle of winter with no clothes and tell him that he can go anywhere he wants on the Washington metro system without charge.  In other words, get as far away from here as you can and be somebody else’s problem.  Let the guy out with no clothes, no money, no job, no counseling, no training, no shelter, no phone and no clue.  What do you think the guy is going to do to survive?  Do you think he might be a little desperate?  Do you know what desperate people do?  Well, I’ll give you a clue…desperate people do desperate things, like robbery and burglary.  What other choices do they have?

This guy certainly isn’t going to get a job in this economy.  And, give him 2-3 days living on the street in the same clothes without any personal hygiene and I’m sure he won’t be the most presentable job candidate.  Talk about setting him up for failure … and we wonder why the recidivism rate is so high in America.

Stupid decisions by government

One of the biggest problems with government and bureauracracy is the perpetuation of stupid decisions and stupid rules.  Moreover, we have so many people in government who follow rules to the letter of the law without any consideration for the spirit or purpose behind the law.  We fail to use reason and logic in our society.  Stupid people in the government doing stupid things.

Oh, jeez … I forgot why I even started writing this article!  The judge didn’t have any stinking Christmas spirit when he let this guy go.  He could care less about this guy.  The reason he let him out was because it cost the government too much money to keep him in.  The economy is down, the housing market has collapsed, people aren’t buying, they aren’t shopping, they aren’t driving as much, people are getting laid off and all of this weakened activity is reducing the tax revenue that the government had expected to generate.  All the things that normally generate tax revenue are crashing.  As a result, we are letting people out of jail early because we can’t afford to keep them in.  Worse, we aren’t doing anything to prepare them to re-enter society, which exponentially increases the chance that they will end up back into trouble in the very near future.