the sheriff stands firm, refuses to meet with county officials on jail expansion, etc

Coutinuing our conversation of a few days ago on our county’s criminal catch-and-release program, today’s “Ann Arbor News” reports that Sheriff Dan Minzey continues to refuse to consider alternatives for dealing with jail overcrowding. (Letting criminals go just isn’t working as a long-term strategy.) Here’ a clip:

Washtenaw County Sheriff Dan Minzey appears to be increasingly isolated as he comes under fire from other county officials who are determined to move ahead on a jail expansion plan, with or without his endorsement.

Minzey’s critics say the sheriff, who remains at odds with the county administration over issues ranging from budgeting to policing, is undercutting his own effectiveness by refusing to attend meetings or talk directly with other officials about the jail expansion and other issues. They charge that Minzey is exacerbating the jail overcrowding situation by refusing to use a state law that allows him to cut some jail sentences by nearly one-third.

But Minzey says he is being undermined by a county board that doesn’t allow him meaningful input and which has endorsed a plan that will not solve overcrowding long-term. He says he will not second-guess judges who set sentences for the jail inmates, and his staff found that attending meetings was not an effective way to address the situation…

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12 Comments

  1. mark
    Posted November 25, 2006 at 12:43 pm | Permalink

    For those of you who don’t get the “News,” here’s the next little bit from the article:

    …The latest battle centers on Minzey’s lack of participation on the Criminal Justice Collaborative Council, a task force that has been exploring ways to alleviate jail overcrowding. As the operator of the jail, the sheriff’s attendance at meetings is critical, other CJCC members say.

    Minzey has not been showing up for meetings – at first sporadically and now almost always. At the group’s last meeting, members authorized Chief Circuit Judge Archie Brown – chairman of the committee – to send Minzey a letter taking him to task for refusing to participate.

    It’s not the only example of the growing rift caused by the long and sometimes bitter battle between the Sheriff’s Department and the county administration.

    Last week, the county board approved a $21.6 million bond initiative to fund a 96-bed expansion and overhaul of critical infrastructure that would accommodate future growth in jail population. Minzey appeared to have no input on the plan and wasn’t even clear on what it entailed – mistakenly telling the press and others that it included district court improvements. Minzey opposes the plan, endorsed by many others in the criminal justice system, because he says it is not a long-term solution to overcrowding.

    County Administrator Bob Guenzel and county commissioners question why Minzey won’t exercise his statutory authority to reduce inmate sentences by up to 30 percent to stem overcrowding. Minzey counters that judges determine the sentences, and he will not second-guess their decisions. He said he has started an inmate management program in which offenders receive points for good behavior, and get points deducted for bad behavior. Those points have been an effective evaluation tool the judges can use in determining sentence reductions, Minzey said.

    Three jail inmates sued Minzey last week, claiming that he failed to reduce sentences, thus confining them in illegal conditions that violate their constitutional rights. County officials for years have worried that the crowded conditions would prompt a lawsuit. Earlier this week, Minzey said he was aware the lawsuit had been filed but had not seen it and declined comment…

    One wonders how long it will be before there’s talk of re-calling the Sheriff.

  2. egpenet
    Posted November 25, 2006 at 1:17 pm | Permalink

    While Minzey has ONE strike against him … refusing to reduce sentences for non-violent offenders and/or increasing a tethering program for those simply awaiting pre-trial hearings who have posted bonds … the County Commissioner (the old board with one session to go) has TWO strikes against it … 1) for discontinuing the outboarding to other county jails, not understanding the Townships’ issues and unnecessarily stressing out the about-to-be-laid-off deputies, and, dumbest of all, 2) voting to expand the jail with one, 96-bed pod, when the paid-for study said a whole new jail is required to house in excess of 500 detainees, given present neeeeds and the projected neeeeeeds of the county 20 years hence, along with a total revamp of County social services to help minimize/prevent crime and, post-crime, to help people re-enter society without falling into crime once again.

    Minzey may NOT be our best sheriff ever, but he’s heads and shoulders over Doug Harvey … and he’s thinking long term. Ronnie urged us at the recent Ypsi meeting that we needed to support the new board, as did commissioner-elect Schwartz, which appears to be more open to long-term thinking, county-wide visioning, and a new jail.

    In the meantime, the best things we can do is fill our streets and our local stores with shoppers … turn on all our porch lights … lock our doors and cars like the smart people we are … and report whatever we see that doesn’t seem right or people hanging out where they don’t belong to the police.

  3. Kate
    Posted November 25, 2006 at 4:06 pm | Permalink

    I was also at that meeting at the Ypsi Sr. Center and one of the things Ronnie Peterson said really struck me hard. He said the commissioners had shut down the boarding-out based on the money, alone, and without all the information they needed. In other words, they had a knee-jerk reaction to the $700,000 bill Ronnie mentioned and didn’t realize the boarding out was actually a reduction in costs — $40 a day, instead of the $80 a day it takes to keep them in our jail — from what they could have been paying.

    But, Minzey’s refusing to meet with them doesn’t forward anything, either. And while the commissioners and the sheriff are playing stare-down, it’s the county’s citizens who are suffering. I’m disgusted with both sides.

    All of these people are elected officials and it’s time for “we, the people” to stand up and yell “Stop it!” at the tops of our lungs. According to Ronnie Peterson, the chances of the commissioners listening to the citizenry before the new commissioners are seated in January are between slim and none. What that says to me is these people have really lost sight of what their position is in the county. They serve at the pleasure of the voters and they need to be reminded of that.

  4. Brian R
    Posted November 25, 2006 at 4:21 pm | Permalink

    The boarding out isn’t a savings.

    The jail is 100% full. That means anything they send to another county costs them extra. It would only be a savings if we had empty spaces in the Washtenaw County jail and instead of filling them, we sent them to other counties.

  5. mark
    Posted November 25, 2006 at 5:48 pm | Permalink

    But, it is a cost savings, Brian, if you factor in what we would be spending to keep these criminals in… say… the 96-bed pod that that Commissioners have just recommended. My understanding is that each of the individuals in that facility would be costing us the taxpayers about $80 a day.

    You’re right though, if we just kept things where they are and only boarded 233 individuals a day, we could say a heap of money… until the law suits started pouring in. And, believe me, they will. The first time that someone is shot by an intruder that’s been caught and released half a doxen times prior you’re going to see one hell of a suit against this county of ours that wasn’t willing to invest in the necessary infrastructure to support a growing region like the one we find ourselves in.

    I hate being on the side of the debate calling for more jail cells, but the reality is that we need to do something now. We don’t have the luxury to think super-long-term about childhood education, drug prevention programs, and all the rest of it at the moment. We need somewhere to put men today. I’m in favor of the 96 beds.

  6. mark
    Posted November 25, 2006 at 5:51 pm | Permalink

    Or, maybe I should just join the other side of the debate and open a gun and ammo store downtown. I’d make a mint.

  7. murph
    Posted November 25, 2006 at 8:00 pm | Permalink

    There’s a discussion over on ArborUpdate about the jail overcrowding: http://arborupdate.com/article/1428/

    So far, two County Comissioners (Leah Gunn and Jeff Irwin) have both chimed in to acknowledge the extent of the crisis and express their *support* of jail expansion. No mention of County out-boarding, though Leah does mention Ypsi’s shipping arrestees to Lenawee County’s jail as evidence of how big the problem is.

    There are some vocal overcrowding deniers there, though. Feel free to chime in – a solution will require more than just Ypsi recognizing the problem.

  8. Kate
    Posted November 26, 2006 at 3:55 am | Permalink

    It’s also costing us in property lost, reputation worsened and people having second thoughts about moving here because of the crime rate. What kind of price tag do you put on those, Brian R.?

    How much does it cost Ypsilanti in paying police officers to arrest the same individuals again and again? How much does it cost us when one of these home invasions results in a sexual assault or someone getting killed? If you’re only looking at that “extra” $40 a day, you’re being as myopic as the county commissioners.

    The Christmas holidays are prime “feeding time” for thieves, due to people being gone from home and extra merchandise being packaged and out in the open for the taking. Yet, it is now that we find ourselves without the resources of a jail in which to house the criminals.

    If the commissioners don’t act at their Dec. 6 meeting to reinstate boarding-out as a short-term fix, we should seriously think about recalling the ones who won’t be replaced in January. And Sheriff Minzey should also be recalled. By engaging in their little pissing contest, they have endangered all the citizens of the county.

  9. maryd
    Posted November 26, 2006 at 7:25 am | Permalink

    When do we get a chance to vote his butt out?

  10. mark
    Posted November 26, 2006 at 11:16 am | Permalink

    Thanks for the Arbor Update link, Murph. It’s good to know that the fight is being fought there as well… and that the commissioners are listening.

  11. Kate
    Posted November 26, 2006 at 12:18 pm | Permalink

    Mark, the jail has 332 beds, not 233. That’s been niggling at me since I read it.

    Maryd, Minzey ran unopposed back in 2004 when he was re-elected. It’s not just a case of getting him out, but of getting someone competent in.

    One of the things I learned at the meeting on Nov. 20 in the Sr. Center is that 62 percent of Michigan’s released prisoners end up in Ypsi, Ypsi Twp. and Superior Twp. I went to the web site of the Michigan Prisoner Re-entry Initiative and learned they really like it that Washtenaw County has such great social services programs and that’s a major reason one of the big re-entry programs is at Huron Valley.

    Yet, the county, in its first jail proposal and its current $21 million bond are planning on MORE social programs, paid for by the county. Is it just me, or does this not seem fair? Shouldn’t the state be helping us with this financial burden?

  12. Brian R
    Posted November 26, 2006 at 12:57 pm | Permalink

    How much does it cost Ypsilanti in paying police officers to arrest the same individuals again and again?

    It doesn’t cost us anything. Whether the officers arrest the same ten people every day or they arrest ten new people every day or they arrest zero people every day, what we pay for in policing is a fixed cost.

    How much does it cost us when one of these home invasions results in a sexual assault or someone getting killed?

    I hadn’t heard that one of these catch-and-release prisoners has actually stepped up the level of crime. More importantly, I’m not willing to categorize any particular CSC as more important than another.

    It’s also costing us in property lost, reputation worsened and people having second thoughts about moving here because of the crime rate. What kind of price tag do you put on those?

    This is a tougher one to answer, but crime in Ypsilanti has been dropping significantly over the years, but our reputation is still pretty much the same. Is the jail overcrowding issue ruining Ypsi’s reputation? Probably, but only on the messageboards.

    I’m not against expanding the jail. I’m only involved over the “extra” nonsense. The County has a $2M corrections deficit. If we want more boarding of prisoners in other counties, what are we willing to have cut in order to pay for that?

    That’s how this ultimately works.

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