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Guest Series: Michael Hallet, Professor of Criminology

Metro Jacksonville consistently offers the opportunity for our readers to absorb the editorials, personal accounts, and vocal opinions of some of the key players in the decision making process of our community. This week, Dr. Michael Hallet, a professor and Chairman of the Department of Criminology & Criminal Justice at the University of North Florida, explains why big-government criminal justice spending threatens quality of life.

Published April 5, 2012 in Opinion      13 Comments    Open printer friendly version of this article Print Article


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Impoverishing Rather Than Empowering Jacksonville: Big-Government Criminal Justice Spending Threatens Quality of Life

This past November, I took a group of UNF students on a tour through the downtown Duval County Jail. It was more crowded than I have ever seen it; I’ve been there dozens of times.   Inmates were huddled on the floor in makeshift beds and packed into the pods.  Prisoners were literally bouncing off the walls.  Days later, an inmate committed suicide.  The facility was built in 1991 for about 2,200 inmates (its rated capacity) but “temporary beds” were added to raise that number to 3,092.
 
American jails are often more dangerous than state prisons—because unlike prisons, jail populations can fluctuate dramatically even day-to-day—generating fresh meat into what amounts to an unceasing internal power struggle.  Violence in American jails is fed by street rivalries, mental illness, racial tension, testosterone and just plain limited space.  The correctional officer leading our tour, a senior officer I’ve known for years, explained the challenging dynamics of running the jail: constant intimidation and violence over commissary items, “trustees” (inmates with some mobility in the jail) “taking orders” and “mail” to people over all parts of the building, racial tension, and the unremitting threat of coercive sex.  “Yes, rape has happened,” the officer explained, noting that a JSO corrections officer had not long ago been brutally raped by an inmate.
 
Issues of jail overcrowding, of course, are not new for Jacksonville.[1]  In 1974, the City was successfully sued over local incarceration practices and the jail placed under federal oversight.  This lasted until the early 1990s and coincided with the appearance of the “new” jail, the John E. Goode Pre-Trial Detention Facility.
 
My colleague Dr. Dan Pontzer and I are not the first to raise concerns about the current population of the jail.  In November 2009, Chief Circuit Judge Don Moran sent a letter to both Angela Corey and Sheriff John Rutherford expressing concern, complaining of both jail overcrowding and State Attorney Angela Corey’s filing practices.  Moran, who has legal responsibility for maintaining the flow of caseload through the circuit and for monitoring jail conditions,[2] made two key points in his letter: 1) “This city is not in a position, financially, to plan for a new jail. … (and) …Furthermore, I’m not sure a new jail is needed if better management techniques were implemented”; 2) Moran encouraged Ms. Corey to “work out more cases before trial” in order to mitigate jail overcrowding.[3] At the time of Moran’s letter in 2009, the Average Daily Population of the Duval County jail was 2,862.
 
As we note in our recent report (March 2012), by the end of 2011, the average daily population in the jail was 3,990. That is, despite a substantial downturn in both reported crime and arrests, the facilities comprising the Duval County Jail are more crowded than ever.  Meanwhile, downturns in local incarceration characterize the jail populations of other large Florida jurisdictions, including Miami-Dade, Orange and Hillsborough counties, which also include substantial DECREASES in crime.[4] In 2010, Duval had the highest incarceration rate of any jurisdiction over 500,000 in Florida.[5]  Jail populations are down dramatically nationwide as well. [6]
 
Of course, the overwhelming reality noted by my almost entirely white group of students, however, is always that the vast majority of inmates in the jail are young black men. These men come disproportionately from areas of town we refer to in class as “Zip Code Prisons,” areas of town blighted by high unemployment, failing schools and broken families.   The reason we have persistent high crime in Jacksonville is not that we are not “tough enough” on offenders from these 'Zip Codes', but because we have failed to address the underlying causes of crime. At great expense to taxpayers, warehouse prisons and high incarceration generate chronic recidivism, returning young men from broken homes and isolated ghettos back to the streets with nothing to show for their “time.” Far MORE resources could be given over to offenders for rehabilitation programming if we strictly limited use of custody for those offenders that are a danger to the community. Overspending on incarceration impoverishes communities, while enriching the custodians. It's a failed model, disproven many times over. Custody weakens families and impoverishes communities. Sentencing reform with electronic monitors and community-based treatment could easily be used here--at great savings to taxpayers.[7]

While Jacksonville prides itself on being a low tax city even as it loses population (and tax base) to surrounding counties with higher taxes and better services, it continues to robustly fund its criminal justice system.  Whether in floating its nearly $2 billion public safety pension debt, its new $400 million courthouse, or its still antiquated bond schedule, Duval County remains committed to big government criminal justice.  But has this really been a sound investment?  As I write, the Finance Committee of City Council is contemplating cuts to Jacksonville Journey’s TEAM UP programs, which supervise after-school and homework programs for poor children.  Let us stipulate for the moment that Angela Corey really is the toughest prosecutor in Florida and that Jacksonville Sheriff’s Office is the best police department in the nation.  What are we doing about the underlying causes of crime in Jacksonville’s "Zip Code Prisons"?  Building a new jail? I find that shameful.


Editorial by Michael Hallet.

Dr. Michael Hallett is Professor and Chairman of the Department of Criminology & Criminal Justice at the University of North Florida.  His research interests are justice policy, critical theory and the sociology of punishment. Dr. Hallett was appointed by Jacksonville Mayor John Peyton to the Jacksonville Journey Oversight Committee and directed the program evaluation of nine Jacksonville Journey programs for the City of Jacksonville.  Dr. Hallett frequently discusses criminal justice issues in public forums:http://www.unf.edu/coas/ccj/news.aspx    
 
Dr. Hallett received the Outstanding Graduate Alumnus Award from his doctoral alma mater, Arizona State University, in 2007.  In 2006, he received the Gandhi, King Ikeda Award from Morehouse College for his book Private Prisons in America.

For more on Michael Hallett visit http://www.unf.edu/coas/ccj/faculty/hallett.aspx




1.See Jerome Miller (1996), Search and Destroy: African Americans and the Criminal Justice System. Cambridge University Press.  This important book specifically examines Duval county.
2 See: Rules of Judicial Administration 2.215
3 See:  Duval Jail Population is up despite fewer arrests. By Paul Pinkham, Florida Times Union. Nov 15, 2009. http://jacksonville.com/news/metro/2009-11-15/story/duval_jail_population_is_up_despite_fewer_arrests
4 See: FL DOC/ Florida County Detention Facilities Average Daily Population. http://www.dc.state.fl.us/pub/jails/index.html
5 Florida County Detention Facilities Average Daily Population Annual Report. http://www.dc.state.fl.us/pub/jails/2010/AR_2010.pdf
6 “Jail Inmates at Mid-year 2010.”  US Department of Justice. http://bjs.ojp.usdoj.gov/content/pub/pdf/jim10st.pdf
7 Imprisoning Communities: How Mass Incarceration Makes Disadvantaged Neighborhoods Worse. By Todd Clear (2007)  Oxford University Press.







13 Comments

Actionville

April 05, 2012, 08:10:40 AM
The combination of High bonds and overworked Assistant State Attorneys keep so many low level offenders incarcerated for weeks before they can even attempt to resolve their case and get out of jail. This stacks up to what we see in Jax today

dougskiles

April 05, 2012, 09:16:16 AM
Wow.  Eye-opening and disturbing.  Great article, Dr. Hallet.

Here is the quote of the day to me:

Quote
Jacksonville prides itself on being a low tax city even as it loses population (and tax base) to surrounding counties with higher taxes and better services

Tacachale

April 05, 2012, 09:37:34 AM
Dr. Hallet takes a wise approach here: people will finally start caring about this issue when they finally see how much it's costing them.

Very eye-opening stuff.

Purplebike

April 05, 2012, 09:58:23 AM
Thank you for highlighting this issue; great article. This is an important topic!

Anti redneck

April 05, 2012, 06:29:19 PM
I nearly choked when I read that "Angela Corey was the toughest prosecutor in Florida and JSO was the best police force in the nation". That was just laughable. I have met Angela Corey. She's just a b---h!! Just throwing people in jail that come across your way would be her idea of justice. John Rutherford's time as sheriff has seen a decline with police. I think he's a bad sheriff and I don't know how he got re-elected. I wanted to give Soren Brockdorf a chance. It's a shame what we have running our city.  :-[

Garden guy

April 05, 2012, 08:29:21 PM
And of course our city council runs every time on promises of lower taxes and less oversight...look where thats got us. No money and foxes running the hen house. This is what a good ole southern conservative baptist city does.

ronchamblin

April 05, 2012, 08:46:38 PM
Good article Mr. Hallet.  We all engage the system on one side or the other during our lifetimes, or we know others who have. 

I am no expert in law enforcement or in the justice system, but common sense allows me to suggest that the measure of the quality of any system of justice depends on the degree to which fairness and justice is achieved for both the victim and the accused by those in the justice system.  Given my understanding of some situations I’ve been involved in, and heard of, concerning certain events in our local system of justice, it all too often functions so that justice is not achieved for either the victim or the accused.  Why is this so?  After all, the individuals within the system have the power and control to do as they wish.     
   
Are these failures to achieve justice due to incompetence?  My view is that much of it is due to this unfortunate condition, which in turn is probably due to a lack of much needed training.  I suggest that also it is due to the disease I like to call institutional arrogance, which allows the officer, detective, prosecutor, jailer, or judge to do exactly what they wish to do, so that if they are without integrity and competence, they can, and are likely to, avoid fairness and justice.  These individuals, certainly for a time, have the power over the victim and the accused, so that unless they are persuaded by good training, or by their possession of the rare integrity, they will not be inclined to fairness and justice.

Therefore, we are set with a system, in my view, of mediocrity; with a system wherein there are too many within it who are incompetent, who are too often inclined to allow their temporary power over the victim or the accused to favor their bad side, their prejudice, their arrogance, and thus, to spoil the opportunity for fairness and justice. 

Surely, any system of justice which has the ultimate power, by way of control and potential secrecy and deception regarding the victim, and by way of incarceration and judicial force regarding the accused, can arrive in due time at a condition of fairness and justice.  Where is integrity? Where is true competence?  Where is fairness?  Where is justice?  Where is the ideal? 

Some will say that no system is perfect, and that our law enforcement is doing quite well, along with our judicial and incarceration system.  I say that there is the  idea of perfection, and that our systems lie too far from it. 

I must add that the consequences of unfairness and injustice toward the victims or the accused, is that of bitterness, of the desire for revenge, and in the making of an enemy where there would have been none, where there would have been a friend, one who would be more inclined to the road to recovery, to a productive life.

ronchamblin

April 07, 2012, 08:30:01 AM
My purpose in my last post about Dr. Hallet’s article was to illustrate, from by limited perspective, a scenario of mediocrity in our system of law enforcement and our system of justice.  But to clarify, I must say that both are large organizations, so that we should not be surprised to discover that within both are segments of mediocrity, individuals who by some luck have gained employment within one or the other, but who, by their solid deficiencies in attitude or capabilities, should not be in either.

But with emphasis, and in fairness to the JSO and our court system, I must say that there are, there must be, individuals within both who perform to the highest standards, who approach the idea of perfection, who raise the image of both systems, while the mediocrities within, tarnish it.  In my view, the quality of each system rises and falls as a result of the degree of caution in selecting to hire, and in the effectiveness of continued training given to all.  A lack of training in attitude and skills can allow the individual who could otherwise perform close to perfection, to perform at a low mediocrity. 

The scenario is much like any company which has many employees.  It is the task of management to train the employees to affect good performance and engagement with customers.  The smaller the company, the more impact each employee has on its survival.  But whereas the private company will fail when infected with too many mediocrities, thereby removing if from the environment according to laws similar to those expressed by Mr. Darwin, the public entity, such as a police force or a court / legal system, will continue to offer a diseased and ineffective, even an abusive, and certainly an unfair, system, remaining over years as a scourge to the people it is supposed to serve; and this, until the pressure of awareness, integrity, and honesty overcomes it. 

Adam W

April 08, 2012, 07:39:37 AM
I thought the point of the article was that building jails isn't going to solve the problem and that the only way to really address the issue is to address the causes of crime.

The link between criminality and poverty is obvious. Working with jail employees to address their customer service skills is like rearranging deck chairs on the Titanic.

ronchamblin

April 08, 2012, 09:30:42 AM
I thought the point of the article was that building jails isn't going to solve the problem and that the only way to really address the issue is to address the causes of crime.

The link between criminality and poverty is obvious. Working with jail employees to address their customer service skills is like rearranging deck chairs on the Titanic.

Absolutely Adam Whiskey.  That was the point of the article.  Good point.  I wholeheartedly agree with Dr. Hallett's opinions, so much so that I couldn't feel confident with further elaboration, wishing only to applaud them.  Not having the discipline to remain silent however, and feeling within me the pressure to think, I splurged, carelessly offering my opinions about my perception of the subtle but effective power held by those in law enforcement and in the judicial system, and the occasional abuse of it from some who wield it; and this hoping that this slight drift from the specific subject offered by Dr. Hallet might avoid shocking most on MJ.

But yes, believe me, I am well aware of the link between crime and poverty.  In fact, you don't want to get me started on this, as I will overload the MJ server to approach a crash.  Of course, my two posts relate to much more than jail employees.  In fact, that segment in the system was my least focus.  My focus was the treatment of victims of crimes, and equally, the treatment of those charged and tangled in the court system.  Within these environments, there is an excess of arrogance, incompetence, prejudice, and indifference to fairness and justice.  Training?  Better selecting in hiring? Monitoring of performance and behavior of employees by their superiors, and the monitoring of the superiors by their superiors – on to the top?  Emphasis on excellence and accountability? 

But, thanks for the caution about my tendency to drift, to talk too much about things which, although specifally absent in the original post, are only somewhat related.  I will be more attentive to what I say in the future.

Adam W

April 08, 2012, 09:46:00 AM
I thought the point of the article was that building jails isn't going to solve the problem and that the only way to really address the issue is to address the causes of crime.

The link between criminality and poverty is obvious. Working with jail employees to address their customer service skills is like rearranging deck chairs on the Titanic.

Absolutely Adam Whiskey.  That was the point of the article.  Good point.  I wholeheartedly agree with Dr. Hallett's opinions, so much so that I couldn't feel confident with further elaboration, wishing only to applaud them.  Not having the discipline to remain silent however, and feeling within me the pressure to think, I splurged, carelessly offering my opinions about my perception of the subtle but effective power held by those in law enforcement and in the judicial system, and the occasional abuse of it from some who wield it; and this hoping that this slight drift from the specific subject offered by Dr. Hallet might avoid shocking most on MJ.

But yes, believe me, I am well aware of the link between crime and poverty.  In fact, you don't want to get me started on this, as I will overload the MJ server to approach a crash.  Of course, my two posts relate to much more than jail employees.  In fact, that segment in the system was my least focus.  My focus was the treatment of victims of crimes, and equally, the treatment of those charged and tangled in the court system.  Within these environments, there is an excess of arrogance, incompetence, prejudice, and indifference to fairness and justice.  Training?  Better selecting in hiring? Monitoring of performance and behavior of employees by their superiors, and the monitoring of the superiors by their superiors – on to the top?  Emphasis on excellence and accountability? 

But, thanks for the caution about my tendency to drift, to talk too much about things which, although specifally absent in the original post, are only somewhat related.  I will be more attentive to what I say in the future.

Fair enough, Ron. I clearly misjudged your response. Thanks for giving me the benefit of the doubt :)

ronchamblin

April 08, 2012, 09:47:31 AM
Thanks Adam Whiskey.  :)

berezenco

August 06, 2012, 05:38:46 AM
I so agree with what he says, Michael Hallet really has a good insight of what is happening to this country. He really is a master in criminology and would vote him as president if he would ever consider running for office.
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