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Caseythoughts Here's the headline I spotted this week, and I am sure many of you saw it in print as well: 'Lack of Judges Means Longer Waits in Jail'.

Now, my first reaction to this was the question (methinks logical): Doesn't that mean, first, that there must be more people accused of crime or violating probation? I don't think that's an unfair or illogical question. I do remember one factor cited in jail population studies (there have been more than one, you know) was that a majority of those incarcerated in our county jail were probation violators, for which there is no bail. Either this number has increased, or the number of new offenders has increased. Thus, you might also think more 'board-outs' and increased expense paid out to neighboring counties as we pull deputies from the road patrol to transport prisoners to and from neighboring county jails.

Here's the reason why. While the county legislature discussed ad nauseum for over fifteen years expanding the current capacity of the woefully inadequate county jail, the state finally told Tompkins County 'enough' and revoked the waiver for double-bunking, etc., which kept the legislature off the hook for years.

Now they continue to have a problem with people awaiting trial, and they're blaming it on a lack of judges, not an increase in crime, or lack of efficacy of their experimental court system. But if you try to ascertain the 'numbers' in the crimes committed, type of crime, and especially recidivism and probation violations, we will be told that those numbers 'aren't available', which I consider to be a non-truth. So, we are left to peruse the above-mentioned article to either ascertain that the premise of the story is correct (people awaiting trial are being forced to longer incarceration because of 'only' two county judges), or that we are being led down a primrose path of more spending for very uncertain purpose and outcome (deja vu all over again).

This article states that we have Family Treatment Court, Felony Drug Court, Sex Offender Compliance Court, Integrated Domestic Violence Court. That's just the specialty courts that are soaking up enormous amounts of dollars. The judge quoted says "They're clearly effective, evidence-based programming."

But how could they be 'effective' if they're jamming up the system? And, if they are evidence-based, why can't questioners of their efficacy get some 'evidence-based' numbers that are believable? I speak from experience: I was a counselor in attendance to the Felony Drug Court for over two years, and my initial enthusiastic support of the system fell to a drastic low point as I watched the system operate, which is to say, it really didn't operate in the interests of justice to either the people who financed it or the clients themselves.

With two probation officers, two defense attorneys, a rep from the DA's office, an administrator (whose summary of each case discussion prior to court seems not to be available to the public) and the judge, as well as counselors who in my case seem to be shunted to minimal input, or outright dismissed as to opinions on the felony client's behavior or flaunting of rules. I never saw a legislator look in on the 'private' sessions of the Drug Court, and rarely saw a legislator attend an 'open' session. If they cite privacy concerns when asked to attend the sessions prior to court, then I think a Freedom of Information appeal is in order.

We were told, when each of these courts were set up, that they would reduce costs, be 'cost-effective', reduce the jail population and lower the overall costs of justice. Now we're being told that because the courts are overwhelmed and the two judges (being paid well in excess of $150K yearly, plus benefits, staff, etc.) are taking months to handle cases that were supposed to dwindle in number as our 'progressive' ideas took hold. Another judge and staff and court (which we have no room in the current court house for after the state took over space in the courthouse, precipitating the move of the Office for the Aging to ANOTHER county building on State Street) so we can envision a cool couple of million for another court house. Maybe that's what they're really trying for. And guess who's leading the charge for a third county judge and the accompanying expenses? Rich John, the same legislator who claimed that we need specialty courts, pushed for lowered bail requirements claiming they were unfair and racist, and actively blocked any jail expansion. This guy has told enough 'whoppers' in statistics and predictions, as well as proposed expense reductions to fill another court room.

One more problem with the argument presented in that story. It states that Tompkins County has grown from c.70,000 population in 1966 to 104,000 in the latest census. This is misleading, and comparing apples to oranges. I was quite involved in the 2000 census writing and producing public service announcements encouraging Tompkins County participation, as well as numerous interviews on air. Tompkins County wanted to become an 'SMSA', a Standard Metropolitan Statistic Area', and needed to break 100,000 in census count to reach that government designation in 2000. It would assist in getting federal money, etc. Tompkins County did not reach that mark, coming within a whisker, but not breaking the 100,000 level of population. So, we can honestly and simply say that since 2000, we have only gained 4800 people in the past 16 years. many of them have to be students, yes? This minuscule escalation in population justifies another judge? Or is it the increase in crime? And where did all of this miscreant behavior come from so quickly?

We had two judges for 100,000 population and no specialty courts. We had a jail population problem at least since 1990's and we still have a jail at capacity. Hiring another judge for the so-called 'surge' in population is supposedly justified? I don't think so. But Martha Robertson and Rich John are already planning and lobbying for it with no further questioning of their premises or numbers.

Let's look again at these feel-good propositions that are based on shaky and shady thinking that does nothing to solve the crime problem. I would remind readers that former Ithaca police chief Barber stated unequivocally that 90% of Ithaca's crime was 'drug related'. My experience in Felony Drug Court confirms this. Can we get recidivism numbers from the powers that be? Can we get real numbers on 'success' rate of Felony Drug Court attendees? Can we define success before we say we need another judge, staff, court room and attendant millions in expense? ('Oh', they say, 'the state will pay for this', a la the same reasoning for continued school building expenses).

Efficacy statistics for our specific county, not national stats (evidence based, as they say) are critical and I will be willing to bet that you will receive a blank stare by the judges and parties involved if you asked for this in writing, not to mention the written proceedings of the two hours prior to Drug Court where the parties mentioned above argue and discuss back and forth all the intimate details of the clients, but rarely listen to those who have knowledge of the clients, relying on past behaviors, family crime history and who the client seems to be dating recently. The philosophy of this esteemed board of Felony Court and Family Court is frequently 'birds of a feather' and spout misleading numbers of 'success'. It would shock and anger taxpayers if they knew what really went on and what, frequently, is a waste of taxpayer money,as well as total lack of transparency in proceedings in that 'private' meeting which should be open to the public, at least with Felony Drug Court, probably not with Family Court. And we are told that there needs to be another judge and court and staff to help out those who wait in jail for disposal of their case? I, for one, don't think so.

Challenge your county legislator to come up with hard facts and figures which they are reluctant to provide, look at and cite about these specialty courts and how they are supposed to work, while they 'jam up the system" which we were assured the opposite would occur. Please prove to us that these judges are 'overworked' when we were told the opposite not too long ago by the same opponents of jail expansion, proposing that we allow repeat offenders to avoid the jail cell and put off their day of reckoning for months, and blame the 'system' which we allowed to thrive. It seems there is no shortage of people who love riding the tax and spend gravy train of Tompkins County and its 'do-good' philosophers who claim they have all the answers. Do-good, that is, for anyone but the taxpayer who, once again, is being robbed. Held up, if you wish, in broad daylight. There's a crime waiting to be investigated, huh?

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