Build it and They Will Come

By CHRIS GEORGE / Community Columnist

When I was 11 years old, someone stole my bicycle out of our front yard. I didn’t receive an allowance, so I had to work summers cutting grass and the fall was for raking leaves, in order to buy the things I wanted.

For my neighborhood growing up, a bicycle was your means of transportation and that’s how I got to school. I even had a rope to tie to the lawnmower handle so I could get from one job to the next quicker. I remember being so angry because someone took my bike.

Nanny consoled my frustration, but reminded me that if I had locked it up to the porch banister like she told me, it wouldn’t have been stolen. She told me this was a crime of opportunity and that I needed to get back to work to learn from it. Nearly every crime we investigate is a crime of opportunity and our prisons are full of people that take advantage of those who do not take measures to protect their belongings.

There is currently much chatter about the need to build new prisons for the state. We are told that we are at nearly 190 percent capacity and that the conditions in the prisons are deteriorating to the point that federal intervention is likely. We are averaging nearly 25,000 incarcerated prisoners at a cost of $437 million a year or $17,000 a prisoner.

The money we are spending in our prisons is about the cost to send a child to college per year. In October of 2013, new sentencing guidelines were enacted to actually reduce the likelihood of being sent to prison. This action tied the judges’ hands in the amount of time they gave a defendant and nearly eliminated prison time for property offenses.

In order to send someone to prison, we must let someone go. It’s a revolving door. I’m not suggesting that we do not need more prisons. It is obvious there’s no more room and people need to be held accountable for their actions. What I am suggesting is that as long as we continue to allow crime to be committed, we will fill the new prisons up as well.

With 15 prisons and 13 work release centers to maintain, the question has to be asked, when do we have enough prison space? There are many great programs to rehabilitate a prisoner before reentry into society, but those are costly as well.

The answer to these growing issues starts at home. Public safety needs you to be aware of your surroundings, lock your car doors, manage your children’s online accounts and contribute to society. Local nonprofits such as Big Brothers Big Sisters, Family Connection and Shelby ARC are constantly looking for people to volunteer their time to work toward their mission of providing for those who can’t provide for themselves.

These children will be adults one day and if they are led astray, they will become a contributing factor toward monetary drain on the system as a whole. They key is keeping people out of prison. Every conviction that sends someone to prison punishes us all. Lock your doors, protect your belongings and do not become a victim.

Chris George is the commander of the Shelby County Sheriff’s Office Criminal Investigation Division.