Later On

A blog written for those whose interests more or less match mine.

The radical sheriff giving offenders a chance

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Jamiles Lartey reports in the Guardian:

Growing up as black boys in rural Gadsden county, Morris Young and Jaron McNealy would have had the same instinct in their youth when they saw the police: run.

“I saw them as a foe. They’d only come by to arrest,” said Young, whose younger self would be surprised to discover he is now a veteran sheriff of the same northern Florida county where he was born and raised.

McNealy, 28, took a different path in his teens, getting involved with gangs and a string of arrests and jail time eventually landed him in state prison for four years.

But on a recent stormy Florida Saturday, the two sit in McNealy’s mother’s house across from one another on opposing couches with no tension and no drama.

The sheriff and his deputy have come by to say hello to McNealy and his three sons, aged 10, eight and seven, as part of Young’s commitment to a new program to prevent children from following their parents into the criminal justice system. The scheme links children with professional counselors and life coaches.

“We’ve seen a trend where the children start coming up through this same cycle as those incarcerated parents,” Young said. “We wanted to sort of wrap our hands around them and put them on the right track.”

The scheme is just part of Young’s community policing approach which includes decarceration and prisoner “re-entry” to lawful society to try to tackle recidivism. “I believe in giving folks two, three, four and five chances to get it right,” he said.

Since his first election in 2004, Young has pushed prosecutors to get low-level offenders out of long jail stays, and has encouraged deputies to use arrest power with discretion. “If we pick up a young man with a piece of crack cocaine in his pocket, instead of making an arrest, put it on the ground and just mush it up. Tell him: ‘OK. The next time.’”

And while it’s difficult to attribute cause and effect when it comes to social issues like crime, over Young’s tenure crime in Gadsden has roughly halved and juvenile arrests are down by more than 75%. The county is also sending 65% fewer inmates to state prison than it was eight years ago.

Young has survived as the longest-serving black sheriff in Florida state history despite his philosophy facing significant challenge. Prosecutors attempted to run Young out of office in 2014 for his liberal use of furloughs, which allow inmates out of custody for short predetermined stints of time, usually a few days.

Young believes resistance to his approach comes down to the financial incentives that incarceration creates. As Major Shawn Wood, Young’s loquacious right-hand man, puts it: “No one in this country should even make one penny off people being locked up in chains.”

But don’t misunderstand the two, it’s not all sunshine and rainbows either. “We’ve got a reputation for catching our man,” Young said. “Commit a serious crime and you’re going to go in and you’re going to do time.”

But all that is qualified by a few progressive mantras that undergird daily decisions at the Gadsden sheriff’s office: arrests don’t necessarily resolve crime, and when arrests must be made, that’s the exact moment where re-entry ought to begin.

Errick Feaster always loved cars and got pretty good at fixing them with his dad as a kid growing up in Gadsden. Yet having failed to ever get his license, Feaster wound up in jail for 11 months last year for driving without one. It wasn’t the first time. Feaster, 44, had been in and out on drug and other minor charges for much of his adult life.

But within a few days of getting to jail some inmates suggested Feaster go speak with Ed Dixon, head of the “crossing over” re-entry program in the jail. The program places inmates at job sites outside the jail during the work day with businesses who train them. No guards. No bars. Rather than sitting in a cell, Feaster was working fixing cars.

“It gave me some time away from that building I was in,” said Feaster.

And after he got out, with recommendations from the program, Feaster found work easily. “I went on interviews and for the first time in my life all of them called me back,” said Feaster, who is now working as a foreman at a tire shop in Valdosta, Georgia.

“Throughout my whole adult life, this is the best I’ve been. I am not struggling like I was before.”

Dixon, a former county commissioner, was recruited by Sheriff Young to head up re-entry because of his deep ties to the community. “Every inmate we surveyed said: ‘Hey, they’ve got great programs in jail and prison, but as soon as I get out, all that support is gone.’ So we said: ‘How can we make it last?’” Dixon said.

Dixon’s philosophy is based on an obvious, but often overlooked fact of local incarceration. “They’re going back into Gadsden county and they just went from being inmate Johnson to Mr Johnson.”

When they do so without support, recidivism is common.

“We’ve had people call us and say, ‘Look I don’t want to go back to jail, but I need you to help me find a job because if I don’t get one, I’m going to go back to what I know,’” said Maj Wood. . .

Continue reading.

Written by Leisureguy

7 August 2018 at 4:40 pm

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