I can’t believe I have to state that as an argument, but once again I’m reminding myself people’s sense of how the criminal justice system actually works is badly out of whack. In the past, I’ve written about how disgusting it is that people have a “lynch ‘em on the courthouse lawn” mentality or the infamous “bullets are cheaper” mantra when it comes to punishment for some of society’s more serious offenders. But now, apparently, at least a slice of our population seems to think that people in jail should be forced to sleep on concrete floors, eat gruel, work in strip mines, be completely isolated from human contact, and hey, why bother paying for heat and electricity to cater to the needs of those moochers? That’s a slight exaggeration on my part for effect, but, sadly, only slight. Some people profess to ride pretty high horses around here. A few months ago, we covered a story about the Noble County Jail launching a new inmate texting program called “chirping.” Inmates are able to rent a device — basically a stripped-down phone that only has the ability to text — for $4 per month and then send and receive text messages for 10 cents apiece. Noble County Sheriff Max Weber compared having the chirping devices to the jailhouse phones, which are also pay-to-use devices, for allowing inmates to stay connected to family and friends on the outside. When we posted that story to kpcnews.com and social media pages, people nearly had a stroke. So, this past week, we checked back in with the sheriff to see how it was going. He reported that there have been very few problems, that a lot of the inmates are taking advantage of the program and that in the last month it generated about $1,700 in revenue. (At $4 per month rental and 10 cents per message, that’s somewhere akin to around 10,000 text messages sent.) We posted that update to our website and social media and, once again, some of our readers took their exasperation and incredulity straight to 11. I blame myself, at least, a little bit, for bringing it on, since I knew the story would once again probably invoke outrage, no matter what the story actually said. Our followers didn’t (or did?) disappoint, seemingly suggesting that jail was some kind of luxury — free room, free meals, free TV and now texting!?!? Why would anyone follow the law anyway because jail is just so cushy nowadays!?!?! Maybe it’s just me, but having the ability to text your family “Hey, what’s going on at home tonight? Tell so-and-so I miss him/her,” doesn’t suddenly turn jail into an all-expenses paid resort vacation. It’s not like the chirping devices are smartphones. They’re not sitting there playing Candy Crush or watching YouTube in their cells. The devices can literally only send and receive text messages. They’re less sophisticated than a circa-mid-2000s Motorola Razr flip phone. And, not to mention, inmates or their families are paying for every message. People today may have already forgotten, but this is how texting used to work, which is why back when I was a teen and had a phone for limited use, one of the directives from my parents was to NOT text people. I looked at my Sprint bill this month and my wife and I combined sent about 1,300 text messages in July. If we had to pay $130 for that, I’d tell my coworkers to never text me updates on their work and I’d tell my wife to stop texting me and her friends so much. Yes, meals are provided, although the daily meal cost for inmates is typically calculated in cents, not dollars. Yes, housing is provided, but you’re sleeping on a thin mattress on an iron bed in a small cell with a rimless toilet and, by the way, they close the door and lock you in at night. Yes, you don’t have to work and can do what you want, as long as what you want to do is in your confined cell block with the other inmates sharing that space with you. If jail is such a vacation, I find it funny that when I sit in the courtroom at sentencing hearings, friends and family members of the convicted never write the court or sit on the stand and go, “Don’t worry about it judge, send my son away for a year. He’s been really stressed and can use the time off.” And never mind that research shows maintaining good family communication during incarceration can reduce a person’s likelihood to reoffend. And never mind that one of the main punishments of incarceration is loss of your personal freedom to go where you want and do what you want. And never mind that there are typically only two types of people housed in the county jail — people who have been convicted of low-level crimes not warranting years-long prison sentences or people who don’t have or can’t make bond and are innocent until proven guilty. But hey, who cares? Because, I mean, only 77 million Americans, about one in every three adults, has a criminal record. Which is why maybe, just maybe, making the experience as miserable and alienating as possible before inmates rejoin regular society isn’t the best idea in the world.

Serving time in jail isn’t a vacation.

I can’t believe I have to state that as an argument, but once again I’m reminding myself people’s sense of how the criminal justice system actually works is badly out of whack.

In the past, I’ve written about how disgusting it is that people have a “lynch ‘em on the courthouse lawn” mentality or the infamous “bullets are cheaper” mantra when it comes to punishment for some of society’s more serious offenders.

But now, apparently, at least a slice of our population seems to think that people in jail should be forced to sleep on concrete floors, eat gruel, work in strip mines, be completely isolated from human contact, and hey, why bother paying for heat and electricity to cater to the needs of those moochers?

That’s a slight exaggeration on my part for effect, but, sadly, only slight. Some people profess to ride pretty high horses around here.

A few months ago, we covered a story about the Noble County Jail launching a new inmate texting program called “chirping.” Inmates are able to rent a device — basically a stripped-down phone that only has the ability to text — for $4 per month and then send and receive text messages for 10 cents apiece.

Noble County Sheriff Max Weber compared having the chirping devices to the jailhouse phones, which are also pay-to-use devices, for allowing inmates to stay connected to family and friends on the outside.

When we posted that story to kpcnews.com and social media pages, people nearly had a stroke.

So, this past week, we checked back in with the sheriff to see how it was going. He reported that there have been very few problems, that a lot of the inmates are taking advantage of the program and that in the last month it generated about $1,700 in revenue. (At $4 per month rental and 10 cents per message, that’s somewhere akin to around 10,000 text messages sent.)

We posted that update to our website and social media and, once again, some of our readers took their exasperation and incredulity straight to 11. I blame myself, at least, a little bit, for bringing it on, since I knew the story would once again probably invoke outrage, no matter what the story actually said.

Our followers didn’t (or did?) disappoint, seemingly suggesting that jail was some kind of luxury — free room, free meals, free TV and now texting!?!? Why would anyone follow the law anyway because jail is just so cushy nowadays!?!?!

Maybe it’s just me, but having the ability to text your family “Hey, what’s going on at home tonight? Tell so-and-so I miss him/her,” doesn’t suddenly turn jail into an all-expenses paid resort vacation.

It’s not like the chirping devices are smartphones. They’re not sitting there playing Candy Crush or watching YouTube in their cells. The devices can literally only send and receive text messages. They’re less sophisticated than a circa-mid-2000s Motorola Razr flip phone.

And, not to mention, inmates or their families are paying for every message. People today may have already forgotten, but this is how texting used to work, which is why back when I was a teen and had a phone for limited use, one of the directives from my parents was to NOT text people.

I looked at my Sprint bill this month and my wife and I combined sent about 1,300 text messages in July. If we had to pay $130 for that, I’d tell my coworkers to never text me updates on their work and I’d tell my wife to stop texting me and her friends so much.

Yes, meals are provided, although the daily meal cost for inmates is typically calculated in cents, not dollars. Yes, housing is provided, but you’re sleeping on a thin mattress on an iron bed in a small cell with a rimless toilet and, by the way, they close the door and lock you in at night. Yes, you don’t have to work and can do what you want, as long as what you want to do is in your confined cell block with the other inmates sharing that space with you.

If jail is such a vacation, I find it funny that when I sit in the courtroom at sentencing hearings, friends and family members of the convicted never write the court or sit on the stand and go, “Don’t worry about it judge, send my son away for a year. He’s been really stressed and can use the time off.”

And never mind that research shows maintaining good family communication during incarceration can reduce a person’s likelihood to reoffend.

And never mind that one of the main punishments of incarceration is loss of your personal freedom to go where you want and do what you want.

And never mind that there are typically only two types of people housed in the county jail — people who have been convicted of low-level crimes not warranting years-long prison sentences or people who don’t have or can’t make bond and are innocent until proven guilty.

But hey, who cares?

Because, I mean, only 77 million Americans, about one in every three adults, has a criminal record.

Which is why maybe, just maybe, making the experience as miserable and alienating as possible before inmates rejoin regular society isn’t the best idea in the world.

Steve Garbacz is editor of The News Sun. When he was younger, he was told by his parents that if he got arrested, he better expect to spend at least one night in jail before they bailed him out. As such, he’s never been arrested. Email him at sgarbacz@kpcmedia.com.

Steve Garbacz is editor of The News Sun. When he was younger, he was told by his parents that if he got arrested, he better expect to spend at least one night in jail before they bailed him out. As such, he’s never been arrested. Email him at sgarbacz@kpcmedia.com.

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(1) comment

woberlin

Steve, a well-written article about a positive program. I hope it opens the eyes of some who consider texting family members a "benefit." There is plenty of research about an individual's future success at staying out of jail when they have the support of family and friends.


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