Thursday, May 17, 2007

5 Point Crime Plan

You don't need to keep up with the news to know that crime is perhaps the biggest problem facing Memphis. And you don’t need to be an expert to figure out that our catch and release criminal justice system is failing. Simply put, the traditional approach to preventing crime does not work! In fact, it may compound the problem. Having worked in Juvenile Court and on the Tennessee Commission on Children and Youth, I know there are programs and approaches that can do a better job. Below, I have outlined the first steps I think need to be taken in making a serious effort to reduce crime in our city.

Please note, this is not a philosophical argument on crime and punishment or the nature of justice. It is what I believe are effective and reasonable strategies to reduce crime.

1. Stop the cycle of Recidivism:

It is time to focus our Department of Corrections back on correcting. Nearly 70% of convicts released from prison in Tennessee are rearrested for a felony or serious misdemeanor within three years. Our justice system is failing. When budgets get tight, job-training, drug treatment, and rehabilitation programs are the first to get cut. Unfortunately, these cuts only cost us more in the end, as released criminals go back to the same life and environment that led to a life of crime in the first place. Funding for effective rehabilitation programs should be made a permanent part of the corrections system.

2. Rehabilitate Juvenile Offender Before They Become Adult Criminals:

The time a youth spends in secure detention or confinement is not just time away from negative factors that may have influenced his or her behavior. Detaining or confining youth may also widen the gulf between the youth and positive influences such as family and school. Research on traditional confinement, where a large majority of confined youth are still held in the United States, has found high recidivism rates. As many as 50–70 percent of previously confined youth are rearrested within 1 or 2 years after release. Simple confinement of juveniles does not address the problem of recidivism.

More funding for rehabilitation programs and alternative sentencing guidelines should be available from the state to allow judges to get juvenile offender the rehabilitation and counseling they need to be productive members of society as adults instead of growing up to be adult criminals.

3. Remove Violent Social Predators Permanently:

Overwhelmingly, most crimes in our community are committed by a core group of habitual social predators. It is time to remove these hardened criminals that cannot be rehabilitated from our community for good. Three-strikes law do not work and ultimately fill our corrections system with prisoners that are sentenced to life for minor offences. However, judges should have the discretion to declare a person a habitual offender based on their entire criminal record. Judges should also be given the latitude to sentence such offender for an indeterminate length of time until they can demonstrate they are no longer a threat to society.

4. Restorative Justice Programs and Alternative Sentencing:

Simply locking up criminals drains the financial resources of the state and has not reduced crime. Kevin Gallagher will push to give judges the flexibility to order alternative punishments for crimes. He will also work for more restorative justice programs where victims have a say in sentencing and criminals have to work to repair the damage they caused. Restorative Justice programs that have proven to be effective include:

Community Accountability Panels are meant to hold the offender accountable for the crime by imposing mutually agreed upon consequences to address harm or damage caused. Community Accountability Panels usually deal with minor offences. Cases can be referred from the criminal justice system or are informally referred by community members. The key participants in this model are the community panel members, the offender, and sometimes the victim, where appropriate.

Family Group Conferencing/Conferencing brings together those involved in and affected by the offence to allow the offender to take responsibility, the victim to voice the impact of the offence, and the support and community members to assist in the resolution of the crime. Conferences have been used to deal with minor to moderately serious offences, e.g. theft and assault. The facilitator acts as a guide for the dialogue between the victim and the offender to take place. It is not uncommon for a representative of the criminal justice system to be present, e.g. police officer, lawyer, or parole officer.

Victim-Offender Mediation provides a forum for victims and offenders to meet in a safe and respectful environment with the assistance of a facilitator. The purpose of the meeting is to explore and discuss the effects of a crime, and the ways in which healing can take place. Victim-Offender mediation is often used for more serious crimes, e.g. assault and murder. A meeting can occur between the victim and offender pre-sentence, post-sentence, or independent of a formal response by the criminal justice system.

5. The First 10% for Victims:

Fines paid by convicted criminals should be used to repair the damage caused by their crimes. Kevin Gallagher will push that the first 10% of criminal fines collected go toward victim assistance and recovery programs in the county or municipality where the crime was committed.

Thursday, April 26, 2007

Voter Id Cards

From another post:

A group of REPUBLICAN legislators has pushed legislation to require photo ids in voting (passed in the TN Senate, pending in House). This would do nothing to avoid dead voter scandals, or to provide auditable election results, but it would deny voting access to the elderly and non-drivers. I have always used my voter registration card for identification at the polls, which would be prohibited under this bill!?

Florida passed similar legislation a few years back, and Katherine Harris used it to great effect to disenfranchise voters. The result? George W. Bush. We do not need laws to get the Bushes elected while denying Democracy to the rest of us. Bad law, bad Republicans.

While I believe strongly in preserving the integrity of the ballot and think voter fraud should be vigorously prosecuted, I lean in favor of letting more people vote and reducing barriers to voting. It is democracy after all. Let the people have their say.

I believe the research shows the largest flaws in the voting process come in systemic errors that miscount votes. Estimates vary, but many experts argue that there is a 3 to 5% error rate in most election counting. (I will try to find the source for those numbers.) On the other hand, dead votes, unregistered voters and multiple votes account for less than 1% of voting totals. It takes a lot of people double voting or posing as other voters to actually cast enough votes to swing an election. An organized effort would be a huge logistical nightmare that would not easily be kept under wraps. I don’t know why Repubs are so concerned about it, haven’t they realized that Democrats are not that organized.

Let’s address the big issue of correctly counting the votes then tackle the smaller problem of who voted.

Setting the Topics

I got this post...
"Sometimes there are important issues which candidates need to be informed about. Having the candidate set the topics (as with this blog) can stifle this feedback, so consider ways to open up the discussion -- maybe a specific blog section for constituent ideas."

...and I agree completely. So, until I figure this out a little better, people can email topics or tag them onto another post and I will do my best to pick them up and start an new post topic. Hence the next post.

Sunday, April 15, 2007

Alternative Fuels

With its distribution infrastructure and proximity to agriculture, Memphis is ideally located to be the alternative fuel production and distribution capital of North America. Biodiesel and Ethanol can be foundation of an economic development effort that brings new industry and jobs to the city for decades to come. However, Tennessee lags behind all other states in this region for offering economic incentives to foster this industrial sector. I will work to bring this city and state to the forefront of alternative fuels, which will create prosperity as well as a cleaner environment.

Safer Streets

Crime is one of the greatest problems we face in Memphis. The cycle of poverty and substance abuse leads too many of our youth to committing crimes. Then the justice system puts offenders back on the streets after completing their incarceration. With few job options or other rehabilitation programs, the cycle starts all over again and too many offenders become repeat offenders. I believe in a new approach for our justice system such as a first offender program for juvenile offenders to break the cycle of crime and bring security to our neighborhoods.

Shall we begin?

I have created this post to have a real discussion about the issues facing the Tennessee Legislature. This is not poke fun at elected officials or comment on that state of politics (interesting as it may be), but to get the pros and cons of the issues. I hope you will find a reasoned dialog about these issues and contribute to the discussion.