Jails and Juvenile: Necessary for Safe Communities

Editorial by GPDPS Police Chief Bill Landis

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During the reductions in funding in Josephine County, we all have become very knowledgeable as to what happens when the criminal justice system breaks down. Research tells us that crime increases, citizens feel less safe and a sense of pride is lost in where we live. It happened here in June of 2012 and its clear that research was right. We have all felt less safe and less pride to one degree or another. In Grants Pass, we all felt the slow change to our community as an increase in vagrancy, thefts, burglaries, harassment, and an increased criminal population began to prey on our good citizens especially in the downtown.

The Grants Pass City Council understood the need for jail beds and the deterrent factor that they bring to those who commit crimes and need to be locked up. The Council entered into a “one time” 12 month contract with Josephine County to rent 20 jail beds and an additional 10 optional beds in July of 2013. My Department has taken a get tough on crime stance to return Grants Pass to that safe feeling. Grants Pass Public Safety began arresting persons committing “ANY” crimes on August 1st, 2013 and lodging them in the rented jail beds. This combined with a Nuisance Intervention Team (NIT) that has spent many hours going after criminals who commit crimes that typically in the past couldn’t have got them to jail and often would have perpetuated more of the same behavior if unchecked. Sort of the “Broken Window Theory” where we look to hold all accountable for any crimes so that they either move along or change behavior that our community in Grants Pass is tired of and won’t tolerate. In my 23 years of law enforcement here in Grants Pass, we have never been able to lodge individuals for minor offenses prior to the renting of these new beds and it has been a remarkable tool in helping to get rid of wrongdoers who need to be held accountable.

Jail beds are also critical in sentencing criminals for their acts. The Josephine County Courts and Judges have had their hands tied for years in that there hasn’t been “Truth in Sentencing” because limited jail beds exist to have convicted criminals serve their recommended or desired sentences. If a theft is committed for example, a Judge might like to sentence someone to 30 days in jail. If the Judge knows that there are limited beds available as there have been, they will not impose a desired sentence because it cannot be fulfilled. We also begin to teach criminals this when they realize they may serve no jail time or very little if convicted.

A Juvenile Department is where research shows communities should be spending most of their dollars. Why?  Because we can change behaviors before juveniles begin to habitually commit crimes. We can intervene and get to the root causes in many instances which can help change their future paths that might be going down the wrong path. This can reduce the future expenses that would be incurred if the juveniles continue to commit crimes as adults. Juvenile Department Director Jim Goodwin refers to it as the ability for a juvenile who may have made a mistake to hear the “clank” of a juvenile cell door close to get their attention and let them feel consequences for negative behaviors. Sort of the second chance where today with no juvenile detention, many are feeling no consequences for this behavior and we are in some ways growing the next generation of criminals where we might be able to change that immensely if a functioning Juvenile Department existed.

Both of these parts of the criminal justice system are critical to have a community where we feel safe, that thrives, and gives its citizens pride in their community and where we’re from.

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