Monday, October 1, 2012

I wish there was a way to make this work

In Thursday's edition of the P-G, there was this article about a former borough manager who had stolen money from Braddock, a financially strapped community just outside the city limits. This woman has been repaying her debt very little by little (in about 1.5 years' time, she has paid $30 out of the $170k) because she has had trouble finding suitable employment, thanks to her felony conviction. That dilemma was quite timely for me as just over a week ago I posted a blog about giving people (criminals) second chances. In that post, I wondered if someone had redeemed himself, should he get another chance? And I had questioned, mostly seriously, if someone could not go on to get a job after prison, then what was the point of getting out of prison.

But this woman's owing so much and paying so little was not what really struck a cord with me. Rather it was this sentence: "If she can't pay Braddock back in dollars, she should pay it in community service," Mr. Fetterman said.

Mayor John Fetterman has been a champion for Braddock, as far as I can tell from what I have read in the papers and have seen on the local news. He believes in the community and wants to make it better. And I applaud his idea. Prisons are overcrowded. And they are often dangerous, soul-crushing hellholes that cost taxpayers a lot of money. People who have not committed heinous crimes and who are not a danger to others probably should not be there. Plus if one is in prison, one cannot make restitution very easily. And in many cases, people who have to make restitution often can't or never do. So having those people help make the community better seems like a reasonable solution.

Unfortunately, if memory serves me correctly it apparently is something that is not easy to do. Two or three years ago, a similar proposal was brought up by the county council. At the time, I called my county councilman to let him know that having first-time DUI offenders (I believe that is who it was) picking up litter was a great idea, and he should do whatever he can to make this happen. But, alas, my councilman told me that there were cost issues that made this community service option a bit thorny. I don't remember exactly what he said, but I seem to recall it had something to do with needing people to oversee the trash gatherers, which would be an expense, and there was probably something about needing insurance on these people. 

That is so unfortunate. In my world, you would trust these people to do the clean-up or some similar service because the threat of prison or an exorbitant fine should be a pretty good deterrent against not doing the work. But what do I know?
What I do know is I feel strongly enough about this issue to have sent a follow-up email to my councilman. I will have to see what, if anything, happens (or has happened already).

What do you think? Anyone with me? Good idea or bad? Does the cost (depending on what it is) outweigh the benefits? Sometime the optimist in me can't help thinking it will all just work out.

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