Sheriff has obligation to embrace reform
The article, “Jail’s release time can spell trouble for inmates” (Nov. 18), clearly indicates new leadership is needed in the Hamilton County Sheriff ’s Office.
Is releasing prisoners at 5 a.m. easier on the system? Yes. Does it make sense for the health and safety of our community? No, it doesn’t.
Release times from jail have long been at the center of effective justice reform. As the former major of Jail and Court Services for the Hamilton County Sheriff ’s Office, changing this practice was a key component of the reforms I was initiating. For over four years, I worked with countless community agencies, jail staff, concerned citizens, former addicts, people who have experienced homelessness and people who experienced incarceration to better understand where we needed to fill gaps in services and change jail policies to make the jail and the community safer.
Out of that collaboration, I initiated the Veterans’ program, the Women’s Heroin Recovery program and the Men’s Exit program. The formula was simple: Provide direct services and mentoring for people while incarcerated to equip them with the services needed to successfully reenter the community. It is a win-win for everyone. Individuals are connected to health care, job opportunities and housing to improve their lives, reunite with their families and create a safer community.
To accomplish this, we had to change policies that stood in the way of progress. Was it easy to do? No, but if you are committed to investigating what actually works, instead of staying with the status quo that does not work, you can bring about effective change. That’s what I did.
It’s also important to note that justice reform is not just a social issue, it’s an economic one as well.
According to the Prison Policy Initiative, public corrections agencies cost U.S. taxpayers over $80 billion in 2017 alone. Data consistently shows that effective reform policies can have a significant impact on reducing recidivism (the tendency for relapse into criminal behavior), and a reduction in recidivism would help ease the financial burden on our community.
According to the Council of Economic Advisers, programs that address the prisoner’s mental health or substance abuse problems reduce recidivism by approximately 21% and 17% respectively. A 2018 report by the Illinois Sentencing Policy Advisory Council found the average taxpayer cost for one incidence of recidivism is about $51,000. It’s easy to see that justice reform is good economics.
The Hamilton County Sheriff’s Office, which includes the jail, has the largest budget in the county, and according to The Enquirer, every year since Jim Neil took office in 2012, he has overspent his allotted budget, most years by at least $2 million, and last year by $4.8 million. Enough is enough. We have a fiscal and moral obligation to implement reforms and fix our local justice system.
It is no longer sufficient to respond to such important justice issues by stating we can’t change because “we have always done it this way.” The sheriff ’s office continues to work in an outdated model of hard incarceration instead of embracing reform that makes sense. Reforms must ensure fairness, provide humane treatment, reduce recidivism, reunite families, and make the jail and the community safer.
The movement for justice reform is here and now, and it’s proven to be successful in communities all across the country. I am running for sheriff because I embrace the reforms that will generate positive outcomes for Hamilton County residents and get the most from taxpayer dollars.
And yes, prisoner release times will be part of those reforms.
Charmaine McGuffey is a 33-year veteran and retired major and commander of Jail and Court Services for the Hamilton County Sheriff’s Office. She is running for sheriff as a Democrat in the March 17 primary election.