August second, Dickinson County voters will once again be
asked to approve additional money to support their County
government. Voters have emphatically turned thumbs down on
the .75 mil request on two previous ballots.
can see by the table above, Dickinson County citizens
already pay the second highest per-capita cost of the five
counties we surveyed. The only county which exceeds
Dickinson in per-capita spending is Marquette County,
unquestionably the wealthiest county in the region.
can clearly see, if we apply the tax increase, Dickinson
County residents move into the top slot, meaning that on a
per-capita basis, citizens of Dickinson County will be
paying more to support their County government than the
citizens of any of the other four counties. We have shown
no budget increases for the other four counties for the next
budget cycle, since all anticipate flat or decreased
HUNDRED POUND GORILLA
initially set out to compare a wide range of different
budget categories. But with one look at the budget, a single
category stood out like the proverbial sore thumb. That
category is the criminal justice system. For purposes of this
discussion, we are defining this as all of the
associated costs; from the arresting officer, through the
prosecutor's office and the courts, and through the
confinement and probationary phases.
these five counties in part because they all have similar
operations relating to the criminal justice system. All operate road
patrols, of varying sizes; all of course employ prosecutors,
all operate courts, and they all operate correctional
facilities, or County Jails. They also operate 911
emergency response systems. Four of the counties, Dickinson, Delta,
Marquette and Menominee operate enhanced 911 systems, while
Houghton County has yet to upgrade to the enhanced system.
As is the case with the other four counties, the bulk of Dickinson County's criminal justice budget goes to the Sheriff's Department. Following is a table indicating the distribution of sheriff personnel through the five counties in our study.
As you can clearly see, Dickinson County employs more sheriff personnel per-capita, than any of the other four counties. This is due in large part to the road patrol operated by Dickinson County. The road patrol is not a statutory duty of the Sheriff, and many question whether this is an entirely necessary expense, considering that the Michigan State Police also operate a road patrol, headquartered out of Iron Mountain. Other costs associated with the Sheriff's Departments include correctional facilities and Central Dispatch, the enhanced 911 Emergency Response System. The Sheriff's Department is also responsible for Civil processes in the county, and serves as an officer of the court.
Dickinson County clearly has more sheriff's personnel per-capita. However, before we assume that the Sheriff's Department is overstaffed, perhaps we need to take a look at one of the other reasons that the Sheriff's Department has so many personnel. We'll do that tomorrow, in part three of our series:
"Addicted to incarceration" is certainly not a term originated by this writer. It has been widely used to describe this Country's apparent fascination with locking people up. With only five percent of the World's population, our Country houses nearly 25% of the World's prisoners. Are Americans inherently that much more evil than the citizens of other nations? Of course not. But for some insane reason, the "powers that be" in this Country came to believe that they could solve all of society's problems if they could just lock enough people up. More and longer sentences became the norm, even for the most minor offenses.
Fortunately, Federal, State and local officials in most jurisdictions have begun to reverse this trend, having come to realize that the policy is doing far more harm than good. Not only that, but it's not cheap. You have to do little things like feed the prisoners, and that costs money. And, of course, the more people you lock up the more people you have to have on duty to make sure that they stay locked up.
Apparently, leaders in Dickinson County failed to get that memo:
Not only does Dickinson County currently have the most jail beds per-capita, but as late as last year we heard calls for the addition of more jail beds to handle the chronic overpopulation of the current jail.
Dickinson County doesn't just have more jail beds per-capita, it makes certain that those beds are occupied, with the highest per-capita local incarceration rate of the five counties we surveyed.
A few words about the above table: the column titled "Jail Bed Days" assumes 100% occupancy of the available jail beds. Dickinson County's jail census has often been described as "chronically over capacity." Delta County is frequently over capacity, which would raise the days per-capita figure for both Dickinson and Delta Counties. We have not attempted to make such adjustments since they would be based purely on speculation. Menominee, Marquette and Houghton County jails, on the other hand, are usually below capacity, which would lower the rate for those jurisdictions. Marquette County also houses Federal prisoners in their County jail, which would lower their local incarceration rate. Again we have not made any adjustment for this because the number of Federal prisoners being held varies greatly.
Dickinson County, by far, locks up more of it's people than any of the other jurisdictions. In fact, as shown above, Dickinson County, on a per-capita basis, locks up more people than Marquette and Houghton Counties combined; which is somewhat shocking since both of those counties are home to significant college-age populations.
Perhaps one reason for that is that both Marquette and Houghton counties have established special Drug Courts, which generally look for solutions other than incarceration. The Drug Courts, which also handle many alcohol related problems, have been termed a huge success in both of those jurisdictions. Delta County authorized a drug court in late 2015, and that court is just beginning operations, so it's too early to declare it a success, or a failure.
Dickinson County also operates what it calls a drug court. However, either it's goals are very different from those of the other drug courts, or it has to be termed a miserable failure.
A little more than a year ago, at the request of Dickinson County Board of Commissioners Chairman Henry Wender, Sheriff Scott Celello prepared a report which indicated that more than 80% of the prisoners confined at the Dickinson County Correctional Center were there on drug or alcohol related charges. Obviously the drug court is not working. One would have to question the need for such a court if it has not fulfilled the basic goal of finding solutions other than locking people up. Both Marquette and Houghton counties have significantly reduced their jail populations, to the point where Marquette County was able to "mothball" a portion of it's county jail system. Houghton County is seldom if ever at capacity. Yet Dickinson County continues to lock up as many people as it can fit into the Correctional Center.
Are Dickinson County's methods actually a deterrent to crime? Or do those methods create more problems than they solve.
We'll take a look at that question tomorrow in part four of our series:
COST OF INCARCERATION
COST OF INCARCERATION
and commentary by DCNews Online Editor, Dave Lee
We have already discussed the monetary costs of mass incarceration, and they are considerable. But the cost in dollars is a minor factor when we compare it to the cost in wasted lives, and the potential long-term damage that it does to the community.
Sociologists and psychologists have now come to widely recognize a condition known as PICS. This is a form of Post Traumatic Stress Disorder, or PTSD. PICS stands for Post Incarceration Syndrome, and is recognized as a diagnosable form of PTSD. It occurs when a human being is placed in the unnatural situation of being confined.
It is believed that more than half of those who are locked up for short periods of time suffer little effect. About half of the remaining group will suffer some effects, but will recover to lead a normal life without intervention.
But there is a significant group, estimated as high as 25%, who will suffer long-term effects just from the act of being locked up. It doesn't seem to matter where they are locked up, or who is doing the locking up. It's a visceral reaction that human beings experience just from the unnatural experience of being locked up.
Without treatment, those suffering PICS will become part of a revolving door justice system, and will likely never fit in with mainstream society. This is a condition that requires qualified medical treatment. It won't be cured by another jail term, a longer jail term, a prison term, another fine, etc., etc. Of course Dickinson County has no funds to treat PICS. Perhaps that's because it devotes so much of it's resources to causing PICS.
And perhaps this helps explain the extremely high rate of recidivism we see in Dickinson County, which also results in Dickinson County committing far more individuals, per-capita, to the State prison system.
Once an individual who falls into that group that suffers lasting results has been incarcerated, there is a good chance that without proper treatment they will be in and out of the court system for the rest of their lives. Now this may be very good if you're in the criminal justice business. But it can be devastating to a community.
There are many who believe that the criminal justice system in Dickinson County has less to do with crime than it has to do with cash. There is no doubt as we delve into these numbers, that criminal justice is a big business in Dickinson County. We'll look further into this in the final segment of our series.
But despite benefits of this policy that fall on a selected few, it can do irreparable damage to a community. We believe Dickinson County is already suffering the downside of this "lock everybody up" mentaility.
When looking at potential locations for a new retail facility, or a new manufacturing facility, industry looks at many factors in a community.
One factor that raises big red flags is an unusually high incarceration rate, since it can be seen an indicator of an unstable labor force. Dickinson County would certainly raise a big red flag in that category.
A high incarceration rate can also cause economic damage to a community in another way. Individuals who are burdened with a criminal record early in life are many times forced to work for lower wages, often for the rest of their lives. There will also be a large number of these individuals who will never be able to find gainful employment, and will spend the rest of their lives bouncing from job to job, jail cell to jail cell.
These factors all contribute to a lowering of the overall earning power of a community. These factors cannot be ignored when we look at Dickinson County's less than stellar performance in the per-capita income category.
As we said, there are many factors that affect the earning power of a community. But to rule out the actions of local government as one of those factors would be unrealistic.
Now, this writer, being what some describe as "older than water," remembers well the days, not all that long ago, when Dickinson County had a jail capacity of 24 beds, (compared to 82 today) and they were seldom if ever completely occupied. Construction of a new jail was nevertheless necessary, due to the concern for safety in the old facility, as well as the need for expanded facilities for the courthouse itself.
But even after constructing a new jail, those beds were seldom filled to capacity. So what changed?
Society in general changed. Between the "War on Drugs" and the belief that locking enough people up would solve all of our problems, the Country went on an incarceration binge. Dickinson County Courts not only met but exceeded what was going on in the rest of the Country. This "lock everybody up" mentality seems to begin in earnest under then District Court Judge Michael Kucz; and has continued to this day without letup.
There 's no question that Dickinson County spends a lot of money on the criminal justice system. There's no question that Dickinson County locks up a lot of people. There's no question that Dickinson County cannot continue on it's current course without additional funding. But how did the county get to this point? What's the solution, if indeed there needs to be one?
Tomorrow, in the final part of this series, we look at:
DICKINSON COUNTY'S HIGH CRIME RATE: IS IT REAL or HAS IT BEEN MANUFACTURED?
One thing we have learned in recent conversations with members of the Dickinson County Board of Commissioners, is that they actually do believe that Dickinson County is a high crime area, and that the level of law enforcement being applied is necessary. And if you look at the statistics you would probably believe the same, until we start looking a little more deeply into the situation.
Members of the County Board have apparently never heard the old story about the peaceful little town that had one lawyer. Now, this lawyer made a pretty good living, doing contract work, writing wills, and all the things that a small-town lawyer does. Then one day, a second lawyer moved into town ... and they both became millionaires.
To some extent, this mirrors what is going on in Dickinson County, in this writer's humble opinion. We also believe that the Board of Commissioners, through it's well-meaning but misguided actions, has turned this belief into a self-fulfilling prophecy.
To begin with, Dickinson County has unleashed an extraordinarily high number of prosecutors upon it's citizenry.
Prosecutors prosecute. That's who they are; that's what they do.
We would maintain that if you unleashed this many prosecutors in a monastery or convent, they would manage to turn it into a high crime area.
Of course prosecutors can't actually "manufacture" crime. But there is a thing called prosecutorial discretion, which allows a prosecutor to decide which cases actually deserve prosecution, and which might be better handled in another manner.
When you have a county the size of Dickinson, with four prosecuting attorneys, there is no doubt that they will be "scraping the bottom of the barrel," looking for cases to prosecute. After all, come budget time, they all have to show a case load sufficient to justify their existence. This results in virtually every case that comes to the office being charged. We do see reports of some cases not being charged when the prosecutor's office issues it's monthly reports. However, we are told by a local attorney with whom we spoke, that most of these denials are actually deferrals, and are charged in subsequent months.
This policy then has a cascading effect with the police officers on the street. When a police officer knows that they must meet a very high bar in order to obtain charges against an individual, that officer will think twice about making an arrest. However, if that same officer knows full well that there is a hungry prosecutor just waiting for the next case, he or she can be a whole lot more liberal in deciding who to arrest.
We readily accept that the vast majority of police officers are well-meaning individuals. However, human nature is human nature.
But this is not the only thing going on in the Dickinson County "Justice" System that we find appalling:
Plea bargaining is without any doubt the antithesis of justice. Now, plea bargaining takes place to some extent in most jurisdictions. But Dickinson County, according to this same attorney, has taken it to a new level.
Here's how this scheme works: (And yes, we do call it a scheme, because it has little to do with justice.) You hit every defendant with every charge that can possibly, even remotely, apply to the case. The most minor crime is made to look like a major crime spree.
I'm told that this is commonly referred to in legal slang as Pasta Principium. Or, for those of us who are a little less informed, the "Pasta Principle." You know, if you throw enough pasta (or other similar substances) against the wall, some of it is bound to stick.
We are told that this method of prosecution was first put into practice under then Prosecutor Michael Kucz. It was then greatly expanded on and enhanced under Prosecutor Jeffrey Poupore, and has continued to flourish since.
Now to the casual observer, all of these charges make it clear that the defendant must have done something wrong. Juries think the same way, (as apparently do the members of the County Board) making it virtually impossible to defend a criminal case in a Dickinson County Court. This attorney said he would never advise a client to go to trial in Dickinson County unless they "have a lot of money to throw around."
The true injustice comes with the fact that the defendants never actually get to defend themselves in a court of law. Constitutional Rights become meaningless, because they will never have an opportunity to be put into play. In addition to a defendant having little if any chance of prevailing if the matter were to go to court (thanks in large part to the Pasta Principle) the judicial system has priced itself well out of the range of all but the wealthiest. Guilty or innocent, going to trial in Circuit Court would likely bankrupt the average individual.
Let's not ignore the fact that this is also a "feeding ground" for lawyers. In fact, one might say without fear of correction, that the only group that actually benefits from this policy is: Lawyers.
According to the attorney we spoke with, "You don't have to be a good lawyer to practice law in Dickinson County, just a good negotiator."
And they make a very good living doing it. A 10 minute phone call and an equally short time in a courtroom can earn a lawyer up to two thousand dollars on a driving under the influence charge. Pretty nice work, compared to lawyers who actually have to show up in a courtroom and work for their fees.
Meanwhile, the citizens of Dickinson County continue to pay, in many ways, for these practices; as the prosecuting attorney continues to enjoy a 99+% success rate.
No one is suggesting that there are not many people who pose a threat to those around them and need to be held accountable. In these cases I believe we all applaud aggressive law enforcement and prosecution. There is no doubt that many of these people will require incarceration. But how many is too many? The numbers in this chart will not be changed by arresting more citizens or by locking more people up.
If it appears that we consider the "justice system" in Dickinson County to be a bit "heavy-handed," that's because we do.
We find it hard to believe that the residents of Dickinson County are so evil as to require twice the number of prosecutors, compared to our other four counties; two of them being home to significant college-aged residents. We believe that this over-population with prosecutors, as well as the District Court Judge, himself a highly aggressive "former" prosecutor, are the driving forces behind the unusually high cost of government in Dickinson County. The actions of these five people are responsible for many hundreds of thousands of dollars of expenditures that the residents of Dickinson County should not be burdened with. Without including the salaries of the prosecutors, the additional costs they generate include the costs of additional secretarial and clerical help; additional court costs; additional incarceration costs; extra costs for counseling that may or may not be necessary; and the costs involved with the probation and parole system. Many of the additional costs being incurred by the Sheriff's Department are driven by the excessively large number of prisoners that they have to deal with.
But whether this continues or not, is not our decision to make. It's a decision for the voters of Dickinson County.
There are many of those of you who will disagree with our opinions and findings regarding the criminal justice system. That is certainly your right. But you cannot realistically disagree that the present course is unsustainable without additional funding.
Thus if you agree with the way the County is handling the criminal justice situation; if you agree in general with the priorities that the County Board has established; then you have an obligation to go to the polls on August 2 and vote to provide the money to fund it, so that it doesn't starve every other County program of funds. If you believe in this policy then you should be willing to pay for it.
Likewise, if you believe, as we do, that much of this money is being wasted, and that these funds could be put to better use; perhaps in programs to help keep young people out of jail; then you need to cast a no vote, in hopes of bringing about change in these policies and practices.
We cannot close this series without two final observations:
Dickinson County News strongly endorses the
reelection of the current County Board Chairman, Henry
This is a plea to all registered voters in
Dickinson County. This is an extremely important election,
which in a real sense could dictate the future course of
This election is likely a crossroads election for Dickinson County. Don't let this important decision be made by a few hundred voters.
Comment On This Story
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you credit for trying to explain the Dickinson County Budget
but feel you were wrong on many of your presumptions. Such
as retirement costs and sheriff's office budgets and
requirements. Using cart blanch percentages have skewed
the numbers from where they really are.