Thursday, February 23, 2017

An Inexpensive Jail Might be Part of the Answer to Homelessness

  Perhaps we need a jail just to serve the homeless and those who prey on the homeless.
  The words from Charles Dickens' A Christmas Carol come to my mind as I think of this. Someone had asked Scrooge to contribute to the poor, and Scrooge replied, "Are there no prisons?" as if prisons were the answer.
   But there is more to this jail-for-the-poor thing than that. Jails can be of service. They are beneficial, helpful. I think of Mayberry and how they locked up the town bum (Otis, was it?) in a way that served him. And, I consider how crime often comes with the homeless, partly as drug dealers and other criminals prey on the poor and partly as the poor, themselves, commit crimes.
  In Salt Lake City, we are witnessing this need for jail space for the homeless. About a month ago, there was a large cry for more jail space, community leaders looking to free up jail space for those who are committing crimes in the area where the homeless are centered, the Rio Grande area. There just isn't enough jail space for them.
  So, how about a low-budget jail? And, I definitely mean low-budget: Few guards, etc. How much does it normally cost to incarcerate someone for a year? $31,000? I'm suggesting we should look to jail them for much less. Often these are not high-security prisoners, and to treat them as such means spending more money than required.
   I am reminded that sometimes a homeless person commits a crime just to get in jail, just to get off the street. They are just part of the crime element connected to homelessness, but other parts might warrant inexpensive jail facilities, as well.

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