Mockery of justice taking place in Sullivan County

Editorial Board • Nov 9, 2017 at 11:40 AM

For some six months, drunk drivers, thieves, domestic violators and other misdemeanor offenders in Sullivan County have been given a pass on serving their sentences. And unless something is done, justice will continue to be denied for many more months, perhaps even years.

Since May, offenders arriving at the county jail to serve weekend sentences have been turned away because the jail is out of space. Only the County Commission has the authority to increase the number of available jail cells. Until that happens, it should work with law enforcement and the judicial system on solutions.

It is a mockery of justice that the guilty are not able to serve their sentences. The agencies that own this problem failed to immediately inform the taxpayers that offenders were being sent home. The situation came to light when the county grand jury issued a report on the jail.

Sullivan isn’t unique in having a county jail well above capacity. The jail was designed to hold about 600 inmates, but in recent weeks has neared the 900 mark. The backlog of misdemeanor offenders waiting to serve their weekend time now numbers between 80 and 100, and is growing by the week.

What do you do?

Some counties are leasing jail space at nearby institutions, though that’s an expensive alternative costing more than $50 per day per inmate in some locations. Others are finding alternative sentencing a useful way to decrease jail populations by having offenders pick up highway litter or perform some other useful public service in lieu of reporting to a jail cell for the weekend.

Certainly, there are other solutions. But sending offenders home shouldn’t be among them.

All involved musts be frustrated by this situation, but until jail space is increased — and that isn’t going to happen in the near future — there must be agreement on an alternative. And there should be an effort underway to that end.

As to the jail, a committee has been studying the situation including whether the main jail building can be expanded. It’ll take time to find answers, but at least that process is underway. Answers are needed now as to what to do with offenders waiting to serve their sentences.

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