Though I have always been, and still am, adamantly against the building of a new jail, my job as chairman of the Jail Committee requires that I weigh all options with careful consideration to determine what is best for all citizens of Robeson County. Through discussions with county leaders, concerned citizens, and experts on this topic, we have considered many options. Regardless of the route chosen, we know that because of overcrowding state mandates will make us make a decision soon, but I am not sold on the idea that building a new jail is the best option for Robeson County or its citizens.
Ideally, the solution to our jail problem should not be building a new jail, but to reduce the number of criminals who need to be incarcerated. Unfortunately, our crime rate in Robeson County surpasses our jail capacity. If we want this to change, we need to invest more resources into the reduction of our county’s crime rate and to the judicial system that prosecutes these criminals. Attempts to reduce our county’s crime rate should begin with a larger investment in the development of our young people. If we use our resources to keep our kids off the streets and in school, we might find that we will solve our jail problem without any need for a larger structure. Programs like the Teen Outreach Program and the North Carolina Academic Center for Excellence in Violence Prevention Teen Court program are attempting to make a difference in the lives of our youth, but are in need of additional support.
Similar to North Carolina’s Justice Reinvestment Act, we can better manage the growth of our jail population by creating programs and treatment plans for offenders who are likely to re-offend after release. Following suit to this act, we could strengthen probation supervision for released offenders, and work to develop programs that offer drug rehabilitation for first-time drug offenders. Not only would this help in our overcrowding, but would also help in getting these people the help they need to improve their overall quality of life.
If we adopted a similar policy for our county, we could re-prioritize our funds to programs that support education and rehabilitation as a means of prevention. In the long run, this would save the county and its citizens tax dollars and space in the jail. Additionally, we could invest more in the judicial system that processes and prosecutes these offenders. With the high crime rate, the current District Attorney’s Office is more than overloaded with cases. It costs approximately $40 a day to house an inmate. Our current jail with 420 beds, so that adds up to more than $6 million a year. That is not counting medical costs.
The more time it takes to process an inmate and move him or her through the judicial system, the more it is going to cost taxpayers. Robeson County is responsible until an inmate is sent to prison, released or — if sentenced less than 180 days — we have to keep them the entire time. If we invested in a more efficient and effective judicial system by better supporting our District Attorney’ Office, then we might be able to save money by processing inmates more quickly by reducing the number of days these misdemeanor offenders stay in jail.
In short, I am working not to build a new jail. The solution to our problem lies in our efforts to reduce our crime rate by targeting programs that empower and encourage our youth to stay on the right path, and in programs that work to rehabilitate our offenders and support an efficient and effective justice system. However. this cannot be done overnight. I am committed to developing and supporting initiatives that work to do both, but I know that I cannot do it alone. I encourage all elected officials, regardless of position, to make the same commitment.
David Edge is a Robeson County commissioner who represents District 6.