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STILL GETTING AWAY WITH IT

THE STATE IS CATCHING MORE HALFWAY-HOUSE ABSCONDERS THAN EVER. UNFORTUNATELY, IT'S ALSO LETTING MORE CRIMINALS ESCAPE.

Ackerman says the coalition would like to see the CBI's fugitive task force made permanent and its duties expanded even further. Even now, the CBI has a budget request working its way through the governor's administrative review process. If things go smoothly, the request, which asks for salaries for five agents and a secretary, will be part of the appropriations bill presented to the legislature next year.

For now, however, the task force has more than enough cases to worry about. Its members are hopeful that the legislature will recognize the work they've done. But the legislature must also address a critical question: whether it makes sense to give money to the CBI without also toughening halfway-house admission standards and the penalties for escape.

Part of the problem, says Jaquay, is that community corrections boardmembers want desperately to believe that if they accept an inmate into a halfway-house program, the offender will go on to live a productive life.

"Reformation is a religion," Jaquay says. "Like salvation. [The boards] see the inmates sitting across the table, and they have their scrubbed, polite face on. They don't have to catch them face to face in a basement with a gun.

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