Adhering to due process solves jail overcrowding

Frank CagleFrank Talk

Turns out doing the right thing can save the taxpayers money. Overcrowding at the Knox County jail appeared to be leading to the imminent construction of another “pod” to handle the overflow.

It has been estimated that a new addition could cost $30 million.

Part of that crowd at the jail consisted of people waiting for trial. Their only conviction was an inability to hire a bail bondsman. There are now over 900 of them released and given a date to appear for trial.

Incarcerating people – for months at a time – who have not had a trial or been convicted surely violates their right to due process and a speedy trial. And the county has been feeding them and providing health care.

The jail was also a revolving door for people with alcohol and drug-abuse problems. The Behavioral Unit Urgent Care program run by the Helen Ross McNabb Center now takes them for treatment. They had almost 500 clients this past fiscal year.

So the jail is no longer a mental-health facility.

If you reserve jail space for people convicted and sentenced for crimes or people who might be a danger to the community, it frees up space and it saves the taxpayers money. That is not to say the jail won’t have to be expanded at some point, but the steps that have been taken have pushed such an expansion down the road.

Don’t get me wrong. People awaiting trial were arrested for something, and they may be innocent for only the amount of time awaiting trial. But they are no different from other suspects who could post bail and be released pending trial. The only difference is that the poorest of the poor stayed in jail and those with relatives or friends who could scrape up the money for bail went free.

Former District Attorney Randy Nichols, who now advises the Knox County Sheriff’s Office, said the failure-to-appear rate has plummeted.

Sheriff Tom Spangler and Knox County’s judges and the district attorney’s office are to be commended for supporting the program.

We Lost Count: If President Trump is able to insert a citizenship question in the 2020 census, what might be the result? Estimates are at least 4 million people living in the country illegally might not be counted.

A poll reveals that 53 percent of narrow-minded Americans want the citizenship question on the census while only 32 percent are against it (14 percent are unsure.)

But if people living here illegally are undercounted, terrible things could happen:

California could lose two or three House seats and as a result lose Electoral College votes. Our tax money that goes to Southern California to provide benefits for such aliens would be cut, and California would have to spend its own money for infrastructure, social services, education and housing for people living in its sanctuary cities.

Oh, the horror.

Johnson Best Choice: State Rep. Curtis Johnson was Speaker Pro Tem during House Speaker Beth Harwell’s tenure. He is squeaky clean and knowledgeable. He lost the speaker’s job to Glen Casada. If he had won, there would have been no scandal or House turmoil or a need for a special session. Johnson is making a strong challenge for the job to replace Casada.

State Reps. Matthew Hill and Cameron Sexton are believed to be strong contenders as well. Hill was a Casada ally.

The voting method used by the Republican caucus may help Johnson.

Each person running for speaker is on the ballot. The person with the lowest vote total is dropped off and the caucus votes again. Once again the person with the lowest total drops out and the vote is held again. As you can see, once a candidate drops out, his or her voters go to someone else. Voting continues until it is down to two members. The supporters of the other candidates have lined up with one of the final two. Unless one of the finalists is an overwhelming favorite, the winnowing process arrives at a consensus candidate.

The way the process works could be a boon to Johnson, who has experience and does not have a faction of “enemies” to worry about.

The caucus will be voting on July 24, and the winner will be put forward and voted on for speaker during a special session called by Gov. Bill Lee for Aug. 23.

It is not clear if the special session will vote on the status of state Rep. David Byrd, who is accused of sexual harassment by three women he coached on a high school basketball team years ago. The Democrats will try to remove him.

It has often been noted that the special session will cost an astounding $41,000. Ooh! Really? Left alone, Casada would have spent that much on shoe shines.

Frank Cagle is a retired newspaperman and the former managing editor of the News Sentinel.

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