The Regular Hamilton County Grand Jury, citing many repeat offenders n the local justice system, is urging that judges give much stronger sentences.
The panel, headed by Marsha Crabtree, said punishment for repeat DUI should be in terms of years and that fines should be much higher.
In the final report, the panel reported seeing many empty beds and even entire wings closed at the workhouse at Silverdale. The panel said those beds should be filled with repeat criminals.
The grand jury also said that those serving time at the workhouse should not automatically get "two-for-one," saying the sentences are already lenient.
The panel said there is a desperate need for a new county jail and also there should be a new Juvenile Detention Center.
Here is the full report:
Honorable Rebecca Stern, Judge
Criminal Court, Division II
Hamilton County, Tennessee
Dear Judge Stern:
As members of this term's Regular Grand Jury, we wish to express our
appreciation for the opportunity to serve on the Grand Jury these past
four months. This has been a very educational, enlightening and hard-working experience, and we urge everyone who is called for service to take the time to serve. They will not regret it. We end this term with a greater perspective of our judicial system, the chronic crime and difficulties facing our communities, and the overwhelming challenge our law enforcement faces every single day.
Like all previous Grand Juries, we are also very angry about the number
of repeat offenders who do not seem to be punished or incarcerated to a degree that is a deterrent to future criminal activities. Most citizens are aware that there are many repeat offenders, but they really have NO
idea how enormous the problem really is. Service on the Grand Jury has surely opened our eyes to this infuriating situation.
It appears to us that most of the criminals rarely receive any real punishment - they continue to appear on our weekly docket, usually with
multiple charges and victims, time after time, throughout the entire term, year after year. We don't see what, if anything, is done to deter
their life of crime. It is evident that their frequent arrests and occasional incarceration does nothing to impede their criminal behavior.
Defendants seem to constantly be in and out of jail, and picking up new charges while they are out on bond. A life of crime should not be rewarded with suspended sentences, plea agreements, dismissed charges,
or a brief stay every now and then at the local CCA Silverdale facility.
We support the efforts of the Public Safety Coalition to strengthen the
laws and punishment for repeat violent offenders and others. We so
urge all Judges to give maximum sentences to these offenders. In this regard, we feel that they are responsible to the citizens of this
community to protect us from such predators.
Rather than restate all of the many credible observations and recommendations made by past Grand Juries, we prefer to say that we concur with them and feel that they continue to merit serious consideration by every concerned citizen and official of Hamilton County. We find it interesting that most of what has been reported by Grand Juries for many years is essentially the same as what we feel to be true even today - the same frustrations, questions and concerns; the same calls for attention to and correction of many apparent problems; the same observations and recommendations, etc.
As jurors, we do not pretend to be experts on any level of the justice system. We feel that our 4-month term of hearing testimony on nearly every type of crime imaginable committed in our County, as well as our tours of the Hamilton County penal facilities and conversations with those involved in the system, has given us a broader insight into our criminal justice system, resulting in our observations and opinions. We have been charged by the Court to report on the following facilities.
We were impressed with our very thorough and informative tour and believe that C.C.A. is managing the facility well. We congratulate them
for their recent, hard-earned Accreditation. They should be commended for the cleanliness of the buildings. We thank the staff, officers and volunteers at C.C.A. and encourage more of the inmates to take advantage of the many helpful programs available to them during their brief incarceration.
We were astonished to see so many empty beds at this facility! It appears that overcrowding was definitely not a problem at Silverdale, at least when we were there at the end of February. We are not talking about just a few empty beds or cells - entire housing units were empty and closed down. Of the 4 women's units, one was closed, and 3 of the men's units were closed, including one of the new ones just recently opened last November. Each unit has a capacity of about 30-40 inmates. When we toured the Jail the next day, it was overcrowded, and that caused us to be even more concerned about the closures at Silverdale.
We do not know if the situation still exists there, but we were not pleased at all with what we found when we visited. As citizens of Hamilton County, we are/were very upset that there are/were so many empty beds at this facility and so many criminals out on the street, rather than being incarcerated. Since we have heard so much about the problem of prison overcrowding restricting the number of people actually being sentenced to serve any time for their crimes, we certainly hope that this situation is corrected immediately. We call upon the prosecutors and Judges to make sure that this situation does not continue or repeat anytime soon.
We also question the need for the "2-for-1" sentencing for prisoners who work or just volunteer to work. As we understand it, the sentences to this facility are normally pretty minimal anyway, so cutting them in half seems counter-productive as a means of "punishment". If anything, it should just be for those who actually work, and no one else.
We believe in the effectiveness of these programs overall, as long as they are used appropriately. This should be for first-time, non-violent offenders only and NOT for repeat offenders or those with a propensity for violence. For the many repeat offenders who know how to work the system, it is not a sufficient form of punishment. It does not seem like "punishment" at all, but simply a way for them to keep from going back to Jail or Silverdale again for a while.
This form of alternative sentencing appears to be fairly effective for those defendants who are willing to obey the rules and apply themselves in order to make a better life for themselves. We were pleased to hear some success stories.
We repeat what past Grand Jurors have said about the need to charge with ESCAPE those who flee while serving this sentence ordered by the Court. If not sentenced to this program, they would probably be in prison where they would be charged with escape under the same circumstances. Based on a ruling several years ago by the Tennessee Court of Appeals, they can only be charged with THEFT of the electronic equipment at this time. We feel like they should be charged with both escape and theft of the equipment.
We thank the employees of these programs and commend them for their efforts. We feel like they may need more staff members for even closer monitoring of the people in the various programs under their control.
GENERAL COMMENTS & RECOMMENDATIONS
As stated earlier, we share the same concerns and frustrations that past
Grand Juries have expressed. Details of those very credible comments
are found in their past reports, so we won't repeat all of them here.
In addition to those previous concerns, we offer these additional comments.
* We feel like the present version of the Domestic Violence law is too general and dilutes the serious issue of the cruelty of domestic violence within a relationship or family. Of the many "domestic violence" assault cases we heard this term, only a few of them seem to t the true intent of this very important law. Even though we cannot speak for law enforcement, we feel like they might agree that this law should be "fine-tuned" and more restrictive in its application. Police officers have little, if any, discretion in these situations if there is, or ever has been, any degree of a relationship between those involved. Fights or assaults between family members (i.e., 2 brothers having a fight), or people who once had a relationship (i.e., former boyfriend & girlfriend), are often serious, but they do not seem to fit the true meaning of "domestic violence" in our opinion. Most are certainly assault cases, but the "domestic violence" part of the charge often does not seem right to us. We urge the legislators to review and hopefully revise the law to restore it to its true and significant intent.
* We recommend that the Legislature amend the Contraband law list of violations to include "drug paraphernalia" AND "tobacco" for the many State penal facilities that are smoke-free. Tobacco is illegal in those facilities, but we cannot charge them with contraband because tobacco is legal otherwise. It is frequently a big, if not bigger, problem than drugs in many facilities.
* DUI sentences should be stronger and deal with YEARS rather than days and months, along with much higher fines. Infrequent short-term incarceration does not appear to help DUI offenders, and it certainly does nothing to help guarantee the safety of our community.
* We heard more about drugs than we ever thought possible - most cases on our dockets were drug or alcohol related.
* We agree 100% that Hamilton County desperately needs a new Jail. We also agree that we need a comprehensive Juvenile Correctional Facility and a Truant Processing Center. The growing number of violent defendants transferred from Juvenile Court to adult Criminal Court is very evident on our weekly docket. We urgently need these facilities now rather than later.
* We repeatedly heard gang-related cases, emphasizing the fact that our community most certainly has numerous validated gangs of all sizes,
affiliations & locations.
* Grand Jurors deserve more equitable pay for their commitment of 4 months of service to our community. We certainly appreciate having our parking paid for - the current $13 per day would never cover both parking and lunch on the days we serve. We also feel like the member of the Grand Jury who has to take the official notes for the group during their term should receive additional pay. It is a required function and a thankless, very busy job for the person who so graciously (sometimes reluctantly!) agrees to do it.
We thank the following people for their assistance and support during =
* Jury Clerk Stormi Rogers and the staff of Paula Thompson's Circuit Court Clerk's Office; Jamie Brown and Peggy Hudson of the D.A.'s Office; Court Liaison Officers SGT Brenda Hafley and SGT Lee Robbs of the Chattanooga Police Dept,; Deputy Morris Bice and Deputy Kelly Burnette of the Sheriff's Dept., and the Courts Building Security Officers and personnel.
* Sheriff's Deputy Morris Bice, our escort-driver on the facility tours.
* The administration and staff members who conducted our tours through Silverdale, the Jail, the Juvenile Justice Center and the Community Corrections program. We greatly appreciate their time and very informative tours.
* Law enforcement for their tireless and dangerous efforts on behalf of all of us. To those officers injured on duty, we wish you a successful
recovery. To the officers who have been, are now, or soon will be deployed in the U.S. Military, we salute and thank you for your sacrifice and service to our country.
* John Wilson for publishing both of the Grand Jury Final Reports in their entirety on his online news site Chattanoogan.com.
* Mike Duncan for taking the official Grand Jury notes this term.
* Assistant D.A. Jerry Sloan and Foreman Marsha Crabtree for their guidance, assistance and explanations during our often-lengthy sessions this term.
Respectfully submitted by the Members of the
HAMILTON COUNTY REGULAR GRAND JURY
MEMBERS OF THE REGULAR GRAND JURY:
Marsha Crabtree, Foreman