Feb 242009
Authors: Ryan Nowell

The last time most of us received a get-out-of-jail-free card, we were on our second lap around the Monopoly board, steering our pewter top hat down a long, humiliating road to financial ruin.

But now that our country is in the grips of actual financial ruin (the get-evicted, starve-to-death kind), we lucky folks of Larimer County might get another chance at skipping out on jail time or “tripping the exercise yard fantastic” as the hardened criminal types say. Or so I’d like to think.

To what do we attribute this dynamic opportunity? Well, according to the Denver Post, county budget constraints have started to cut a bit deeper than usual, forcing the Sheriff’s department to fire 18 employees, most of whom worked the already understaffed county jail.

With the officer to inmate ratio now reaching critical Collegian fan-mail to hate-mail numbers, the county has been forced to cap the jail’s maximum occupancy to avert a potentially disastrous situation/snippy counter-editorial.

So what does this mean for Johnny Onthestreet? It means that barring a more violent crime, the likelihood of your jail sentence getting delayed or deferred is going to be quite high for the next few fiscal quarters.

Suspects for Class 1, 2 or 3 felonies — the stabby quotient — are still going to be taken off the streets, but that’s about it. Class 4, 5 and 6 felonies — your fun-loving, weekend felonies — will get you booked, slapped with a bond and released, with possible court-ordered supervision.

With a whole host of crimes now dispensing with the customary overnight lock-up, law-enforcers will presumably have to keep burglary suspects and DUI offenders in check through a more esoteric and thoughtful “Sword of Damocles” approach, whereby offenders are gripped by a deep and ominous dread over their impending court dates. Citizens are skeptical, though it’s been widely lauded by the Swedish existential filmmaking community.

Meanwhile, the county is trying to recoup some of their waning revenue by implementing rate hikes for a handful of misdemeanors (expired car insurance now setting you back a perfectly reasonable $600-$1,000). With the penalty for low crimes going up and the (immediate) penalty for high crimes going down, one can view this as impetus to up the stakes a bit in order to hit the new felonious g-spot.

Get caught jay-walking? Try to sell the officer some blow.

Didn’t have enough change for the meter? Have a few too many before going on your way.

Got a taillight out? Floor it, and rev that baby up to a reckless endangerment charge.

One of the worst parts about this seemingly disastrous plan is that it really isn’t anyone’s fault. From a column-writing perspective, having someone to point at and call an idiot is like the Swatch gods descending from Mt. Big-Hand and bequeathing you your weekend. But in this instance, necessity is the only idiot we have to blame, barring a protracted policy debate on how the budget got this way in the first place.

But the sheriff, the county and courts are grudgingly doing the only thing the money will allow. Frank Lancaster, the county manager, said these services are “more efficient and streamlined” and open “even more doors for consolidation, cross-departmental collaboration, partnering and redesigning of services.”

I’m sure the county prison guards, each charged with monitoring roughly 70 convicts apiece, are really appreciating their newly streamlined department’s sleeker, ultra-svelte hiring practices.

But as long as we’re taking the path of insincere optimism, maybe we can view this as a grand experiment. Given our country’s less than stellar recidivism rates, our prison system is the last place you want to put a criminal.

“Do the crime, do the time” attitudes, while easily grasped and grammatically endearing, don’t really account for what inmates are supposed to do with said time other than provide everyone outside of prison with a sense of self-righteousness. Unable to improve their situation, and unlikely to spend their days recanting, they have nothing else to do but make connections with other criminals and learn more about crime.

Maybe a long overdue reform of our penal system will come about through the magic of imminent financial collapse. Oh, recession!

Ryan Nowell is a senior English major. His column appears Wednesdays in the Collegian. Letters and feedback can be sent to letters@collegian.com.

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