Members of the Regular Hamilton County Grand Jury said they are infuriated that their reports are constantly ignored.
The latest report by the panel led by Marsha Crabtree says the reports are "an exercise in futility."
It says numerous grand juries have made the same suggestions, but they have not been acted upon.
One of those is replacing the current County Jail.
The report says there is little "work" that goes on at the county workhouse. It questions whether prisoners there should continue to receive "2 for 1."
It says the workhouse "appears to be a place where convicted criminals can go to heal up, rest up, and fatten up, at taxpayer expense, before being released back into society."
The report says the “Community Corrections Programs” are "nothing more than 'feel-good programs' for the elected officials and the judiciary" and should be abolished.
Here is the full report:
REGULAR GRAND JURY
December 16, 2009
Honorable Don Poole, Judge
Criminal Court, Division III
Hamilton County, Tennessee
Dear Judge Poole,
We members of the Regular Grand Jury for September – December 2009 are proud to have fulfilled our civic responsibility by serving in this important capacity. This has been an extremely valuable, educational and eye-opening experience. We strongly urge all citizens to serve on the Grand Jury when given the opportunity.
During our 4-month Grand Jury service, we gained a greater insight into our judicial and corrections systems. As we continue with this Final Report to the Court, you will see that we do not have a very favorable impression of either. We do not fault the personnel, but we do fault many of the criminal-friendly laws and the current system that we see as ineffective and broken -- the best system in the world, yes, but one also in urgent need of major repairs. It is our impression that unless or until someone is involved with the system in some capacity, they just have no idea what it is really like. We certainly didn’t until we served on the Grand Jury.
Let us begin by saying that we would prefer not to even write a Final Report, but we understand that we are required to do so by law. We can only ask “why bother with such an exercise in futility?” It appears to us that it really doesn’t matter what the Grand Jury says, or how many times we say it. It infuriates each of us that the many, many past reports have said essentially the very same thing for years and nothing ever changes --- is anyone even paying attention? Apparently, we can forget the possibility of any actions or results – but what about at least some consideration and discussion by officials and the public regarding the various issues and concerns consistently raised by the Grand Juries?
Understand that no Grand Juror pretends to be an expert on any of this, and we know that no one is obligated to follow any of the recommendations presented by them in their Final Reports. And, yes, we are well aware of the ever-present budget constraints faced by everyone involved. We know that the situation is worse than usual now, but it hasn’t always been that way and, hopefully, it won’t always be that way. However, we cannot afford to let the system continue to benefit only the criminals.
Before we discussed our report, we read several past reports. We immediately realized that one in particular, from a few years ago, said exactly what we wanted to say and how we wanted to say it. We are using most of that past report as the foundation of our report, with our own comments and some from other reports also included. We thank the prior jurors for the use of their reports. Because we had so much we wanted to say, we realize that this is a longer report than usual. Hopefully, that will not be a reason for ignoring it.
In addition to the hundreds of criminal cases we heard this term, many of which dealt with the same defendants over and over, we also visited several Hamilton County penal facilities. We now offer our observations and comments on those within our charge.
Before commenting on CCA Silverdale and the Community Corrections Program, we want to say that we understand that all penal facilities are mandated by law as to how to house and care for their prisoners. Our comments are not intended to fault the staffs for following those regulations.
We found Silverdale to be very clean and well managed, and at $45.33 daily per inmate, it seems to be a bargain. However, to call this facility a workhouse is more of a stretch than our collective imagination is capable of. The majority of those working were the CCA employees. As we understand it, only certain inmates are eligible to work. Some of those inmates who work do not always do so on a routine basis – usually just when needed at various locations or weather permitting. We agree that more available “outside” jobs would be helpful. We question the use of the “2-for-1” sentencing for prisoners who work or just volunteer to work. The sentences at this facility are normally pretty minimal anyway, so cutting them in half seems counter-productive as a means of “punishment”. If anything, the program should just be for those who actually work, and no one else.
We noticed that the life of the prisoners is much milder and more tolerable than we expected. This facility appears to be a place where convicted criminals can go to heal up, rest up, and fatten up, at taxpayer expense, before being released back into society. To only be out of bed and ready for breakfast and inspection does not seem adequate while repaying your debt to society. The inmates should be forbidden from going back to bed after the morning head count. Their mattress should be folded up on the bed until 9 PM. During the day, if they aren’t working, they can sit around on the floor if necessary. They are there to serve a criminal sentence, to do time, and it should not be easy time. They are usually not at CCA very long, so it really shouldn’t be too much of a hardship on them.
If it were true that taking away one’s freedom is enough of a deterrent to prevent crime, why are there so many repeat offenders? We believe that these inmates should have a vocation while incarcerated – this is supposed to be, after all, a “workhouse”, not an assisted living facility. Detention facilities should not be nice places and inmates should have few rights. When individualism and personal rights win out over the well being of society, then we all lose.
COMMUNITY CORRECTIONS PROGRAM
We feel sure that these programs are being operated in accordance with the laws governing them, and we feel sure that the employees of the programs are doing the best that they can. However, we also feel that the “Community Corrections Programs” are nothing more than “feel-good programs” for the elected officials and the judiciary. The elected officials fund and support these programs so that they can pretend to be addressing the issue of Jail overcrowding, and ignoring the fact that a new Jail is needed.
The judiciary, by utilizing these programs for sentencing, can say they have done what the law requires, the rights of the accused or convicted have been upheld, and punishment has been administered. In fact, all that has been done is to tell a person who has already demonstrated a lack of regard for the law to go to their room and stay there. When they decide not to obey, they cannot even be charged with escape. The process must then start over, wasting precious resources of manpower, time and money.
In our opinion, these alternative sentencing programs should be discontinued, with the facilities and funding made available to the Juvenile Justice Center and Hamilton Co. Jail to meet their constantly growing needs.
OBSERVATIONS & COMMENTS
From the beginning to the end of our term on this Grand Jury, several questions were always present in our minds --- “Where is the punishment?”; “What is the deterrent?”; “Why aren’t these people locked up?”; “Why don’t the sentences mean what they say?”; “What exactly does Corrections mean?”. As we end our Grand Jury service, we are STILL asking those same questions.
After 4 months of often intense, sometimes boring, testimony – and, more often than not, in regard to the same defendants – along with our observations of the facilities and enlightenment about court proceedings, we have formed the following opinions and assessments. We realize that many may not agree with us, but as we said, these are what we consider to be well-founded assessments based on our Grand Jury experience. We understand that we are not the first Grand Jury to feel this way --- and undoubtedly will not be the last.
JUDICIAL: We are completely frustrated and dismayed by our Criminal Court system. It appears to us that the system allows – even enables – many defendants to become repeat offenders due to the absence of any meaningful punishment for their crimes, as well as the length of time it often takes for the disposition of some cases. So many cases are passed and reset numerous times. A majority of defendants have multiple cases pending at various levels in the Court system --- and, for some strange reason, rather than having their probation immediately revoked, many are given a postable bond which allows them to return to their life of crime and pick up even more charges. It should be very obvious by now that so many of them have only a criminal mindset and have no intention of “going straight”. Why should they? They have very little to fear from the courts. Evidently they have to commit many, many, many crimes over several years, or commit a very serious heinous crime, before a sentence of any length or severity is even considered, much less administered.
After hearing testimony on cases involving so many repeat, multiple offenders in our area, we have reached this conclusion. We feel sure that others will dispute this opinion, but this is what we feel after several months on the Grand Jury. There seems to be an enormous group of local repeat criminals who have not served any “hard time” in the TN State Prison system. They repeatedly commit crimes for years and years, yet they spend their criminal careers in and out of the local Jail and Silverdale only – many never leave Hamilton County. Where is their punishment? Where is the deterrent not to commit more crimes? We agree with the past Grand Juries that a short incarceration at Silverdale is not our idea of punishment for their crimes – and it is very apparent that it is not a deterrent to future criminal activity. That applies to those who actually get sentenced to ANY facility – there are many more who receive numerous dismissals and/or suspended sentences and rarely, if ever, serve time anywhere. They just return to their life of crime sooner than the others and continue to victimize our community. Many others get their “time served” in our continuously-overcrowded Jail because they can’t make bond, if they have one set, and are awaiting the settlement of their cases in the Courts. At least the few criminals who are sent to the State Prison are off the streets for a little longer than their colleagues who remain here. The local inmates are usually not in custody long enough to even clear their most current cases off of the Court dockets.
And now we read that State budget cuts might result in the early release of many “non-violent” State prisoners. That possibility doesn’t even deserve our comment.
We were amazed that defendants seem to constantly be in and out of Jail, and picking up NEW charges while they are out on bond. A life of crime should not be repeatedly rewarded with suspended sentences, dismissed or reduced charges, plea agreements, or a brief stay every now and then at the local CCA Silverdale facility. We agree with the very appropriate term that this is the system’s outlandish version of the “catch & release” program.
It is obvious that they have absolutely no regard for our criminal laws, or the laws of society, and continue to flaunt that disregard in our faces by continuing to break the laws at will. We agree with past Grand Juries that until they are punished more severely in Criminal Court than they would be in General Sessions Court, many will continue to use the Grand Jury and the entire process as a means of “buying time” to avoid or delay the final decision on their cases. It is evident that their frequent arrests and occasional incarceration do nothing to affect their criminal behavior.
We Grand Jurors join with Law Enforcement in disgust and frustration at the lack of meaningful sentencing handed down in our courts. We encourage citizens to contact their legislators to demand that more of the ridiculous TN Sentencing laws be changed to increase the level and length of incarceration for these repeat criminal predators --- sentences that truly mean what they say. We heard a lot about “taking cases to Federal Court” and now understand why that is such a plus – cases rarely languish in the Court for long, and most importantly, there are fewer plea agreements, and convictions mean stronger sentences, with much less “early release” configurations than in the State system.
We strongly urge all Judges to give the maximum sentences to them each and every time they are in their Courts. We strongly request that the District Attorney and Judges stop agreeing to the practice of repeatedly passing cases and allowing so many plea agreements, including reduced or dismissed charges, suspended sentences, probation, etc. The safety and security of the citizens should be a higher priority than a settlement that is satisfactory to a defendant in his or her latest criminal case in Court.
Simply reporting the overall number of cases heard in the Criminal Courts over the years doesn’t actually tell the real story. It isn’t about the number of cases heard – it is the disposition of those cases that seems more important to us. We believe that an investigative study of the break-down of those cases, showing the percentages of charges dismissed, reduced, suspended sentences, probation, etc. would certainly support the statements in this and prior reports.
If we have to build more prisons, then so be it. At some point in time, the consideration and rights of victims, law-abiding citizens and society as a whole must take precedence over the rights of the criminals. We feel that NOW is that time. We also feel strongly that there should be more concern for the safety of the public than just about saving money for the County.
CORRECTIONS: Like the Judiciary, we understand that Corrections is also regulated by ridiculous laws that mandate the way they deal with prisoners, and we do not fault the personnel involved. It seems to us that the care and housing of prisoners is more of a concern than WHY they are there in the first place. These people committed crimes and victimized all of us in some way.
Perhaps we are mistaken, but corrections officers are not supposed to be social workers, yet it seems to us that is what is expected of them. Correctional facilities are doing what they are required to do in housing, feeding, medical care, mental health & psychiatric care, drug & alcohol abuse programs, educational programs, self-help & life skills programs,
religious & counseling services, etc. of the prisoners. However, we feel that prisoners should be afforded basic and humane care only, without all of the extras currently prescribed by the feel-good, criminal-friendly laws.
Again, we ask “Where is the punishment?”. Other than the short-term “loss of freedom”, most prisoners probably have a better life while incarcerated locally than they do otherwise. We are sure they eat better and get much better medical care than when they are on the streets. Their “loss of freedom” doesn’t appear to bother them as much as we would like to think, or as much as it certainly would the rest of us.
Quite frankly, in this case, we think the term “corrections” seems as ridiculous as many of the laws that regulate them. If there was any stringent “correcting” going on, more
criminals would change their behavior in order to avoid ever returning to the various penal facilities. Until prison time is harsh and uncomfortable enough to make them think twice before committing their next crime, we cannot see any hope for improvement in the enormous number of repeat offenders and the high recidivism rate.
We feel strongly that the money and efforts used in the many programs for prisoners should be redistributed to serve the needs of our young people, in order to help prevent them from ever committing crimes or going to prison.
LAW ENFORCEMENT: We gained a better appreciation and understanding of law enforcement and the problems they face in the constant uphill battle against crime and criminals. We commend them for their dangerous and frustrating efforts to protect all of us. It is obvious that, no matter how many times they arrest an individual, they will usually encounter that same criminal on the streets again within a very short period of time. It’s a wonder to us that anyone decides to remain a police officer for very long.
The many repeat offenders continuously re-victimize society by requiring that so many police officers spend countless hours in the various courts where the defendants’ cases are pending --- with those cases passed to a later date much too often, thus requiring the officers to return to court AGAIN & AGAIN on the same cases. It appears to us that many officers are in Court or Grand Jury nearly all of the time. When do they get to do their jobs or get any rest? As citizens of this community, we are concerned when so many officers are tied up in Court and Grand Jury proceedings, to the point where there may be too few left on duty to safely patrol our streets or work other criminal cases. Because their presence in Court or Grand Jury is required, attention to their duties often has to take second place --- and that is not the way it should be. It must certainly create manpower supervision problems for the police, as well as a safety & security problem for all.
OTHER: We concur with recommendations made by previous Grand Juries in their Final Reports. We hope that close attention will be paid to them at some time, by someone. Details of those comments can be found in the many past Grand Jury reports.
In conclusion, we agree with past Grand Jurors that the entire judicial system should be streamlined and structured to better serve the law and law-abiding citizens of our community, rather than the numerous repeat offenders and their attorneys.
We wish to thank the following people for their assistance and support during our term:
· Jury Clerk Stormi Rogers and the staff of the Circuit Court Clerk’s Office; Jamie Brown and Peggy Hudson of the District Attorney’s Office; Amy Northern of the Criminal Court Clerk’s Office; Court Liaison Officers SGT Lee Robbs & SGT Jim Appugliese of the Chattanooga PD; Sheriff’s Deputies Morris Bice, Bill Darby & Kelly Burnette; and the Courts Building Security Officers and personnel.
· We wish SGT Lee Robbs the very best on his retirement from the Chattanooga PD.
· Sheriff’s Deputy Bobby Williams, our courteous escort and driver to our facility visits.
· Administration and staff members who conducted our tours through the Jail, Silverdale, Juvenile Justice Center and Community Corrections. We appreciate their time and very informative facility tours.
· John Wilson and his online news website Chattanoogan.com for publishing the Grand Jury reports in their entirety. As a result, everyone in the community with computer access can read the comments from that term’s sitting Grand Jury.
· Law enforcement for their tireless and dangerous efforts on behalf of our community. To those injured on duty, we wish you a successful recovery. To the many officers who are now, or have been, deployed in the military, we salute and thank you for your service to our country.
· Richard Sherriff for taking the official notes for our Grand Jury.
· Assistant D.A.’s Jerry Sloan and Bill West, and Foreman Marsha Crabtree, for their guidance and helpful explanations during our sessions this term.
HAMILTON COUNTY REGULAR GRAND JURY