- Associated Press - Wednesday, March 28, 2018

Recent editorials from Tennessee newspapers:

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March 23

The Kingsport Times-News on repeat drunken drivers owning vehicles:

Someone with a drinking problem needs the kind of help he won’t get behind bars. But when he or she repeatedly drives drunk, society has few options. Such is the case with a Hawkins County man recently charged with his eighth offense of driving under the influence.

Unless such a person is locked up or some other way is found to keep him off the road, it’s only a matter of time before he kills himself or others. Some states prohibit ownership of a motor vehicle by someone under the age of 18. Can those with repeated DUI convictions also be banned from owning a vehicle? Could that be enforced?

Current strategies to reduce or prevent drunk driving are working, but too many repeat offenders still get behind the wheel. We have DUI laws, sobriety checkpoints, ignition interlocks, media campaigns, license revocation or suspension, and other instructional programs, but so long as a drunk has the keys to a motor vehicle, they will drive drunk.

The Hawkins offender has a history of DUI convictions dating back to 1985. He was recently spotted driving at a high rate of speed on Carters Valley Road. An officer attempted a stop, but the driver continued into Sullivan County for some distance before pulling over. He did not have a driver’s license, and a computer check revealed DUI convictions in Hawkins County in 2016 and in Sullivan County in 2002, 1998, 1994, 1987, 1986 and 1985. He also had three previous convictions for driving on a revoked license.

The only way to prevent someone like this from driving drunk is to ensure he has no means to do so, other than perhaps someone loaning a vehicle. And if that happens, that person should be held responsible for whatever results.

We already have laws that prevent people from owning certain things. For instance, if you’re a felon you cannot own a firearm. Society should take the same approach to drunk drivers. In 2016, 10,497 people died in drunk driving crashes - one every 50 minutes. And 290,000 were injured in drunken driving crashes.

According to Mothers Against Drunk Driving, an average drunk driver has driven drunk more than 80 times before their first arrest.

We’ve got to get repeat drunk drivers off the road. Tennessee could lead the way by being the first state to ban vehicle ownership by anyone convicted of a certain number of drunken driving offenses within a certain period.

They’ll drive drunk whether or not they have a license or insurance. And they’ll probably drive drunk if they can purchase a vehicle. But banning them from registering it may help.

Online: http://www.timesnews.net/

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March 24

Johnson City Press on stolen valor:

Scammers certainly are creative. Phony Nigerian princes, IRS collectors, credit card vendors, driveway pavers, stranded drivers and more - they’ll do anything to make a buck. Those who prey on vulnerable seniors are particularly vile.

There’s another kind of scam artist, though, who leaves us particularly cold: the bogus veteran or soldier.

Nothing could be less respectful than to misappropriate a service record. Servicemen and women take unfathomable risks for us, and their value to society should not be borrowed or stolen.

State Rep. Micah Van Huss wants to stop the impostors right in their boots. A veteran himself, Van Huss has sponsored legislation that would make impersonating an active duty member of the military or veteran for the purpose of gaining benefit a criminal offense.

House Bill 2130 would charge someone with a Class A misdemeanor for attempting to obtain money, property, services or other tangible benefits by pretending to be a military veteran or active service member, either by fabricating certain paperwork or wearing uniforms, medals or insignias. Boy Scouts, uniformed groups and theatrical performers would be exempt.

Frankly, it should be a surprise to Tennesseans that this is not already law in the Volunteer State, a nickname earned through its early residents’ dedication to service.

Van Huss postponed discussion on the bill this week in the House Criminal Justice Subcommittee to allow time for another legislator to take a similar stolen valor bill off notice. We encourage him to renew his efforts as soon as the calendar allows.

While he’s at it, he should consider taking the bill up a notch to classify the crime as a felony. At a minimum, deceit for gain of this nature is certainly on par with some offenses in Class E. If altering a license plate is worth a felony charge, so is faking a military record.

Online: http://www.johnsoncitypress.com/

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March 26

The Commercial Appeal on multiple county jail crises:

The Shelby County Jail, which federal judges declared unconstitutional in 1976 and 1989, and which drew a third federal judge’s wrath in 2000, is operating again under duress.

Earlier this month, jailers transferred 48 pretrial defendants to the old penal farm. The jail’s population had gone over 2,500, or above 90 percent of its official capacity. At 85 percent, a jail’s classification system begins to break down and it becomes more difficult to manage and control.

The crowding is perplexing. In February, the jail held 300-plus more males than it did two years ago, even though local law enforcement sent 600 fewer males to jail than it did two years ago.

How can local law enforcement bookings be declining while the local jail population keeps rising? Why does the Shelby County Jail have the second highest incarceration rate among all local jail systems, nearly double Davidson County’s rate?

It’s a complicated issue, but it boils down to this: Fewer people are being arrested, but those who get arrested are staying in jail much longer.

Some of that is the result of higher-than-normal homicide rates the past two years. And the processing of thousands of untested rape kits. And fewer plea bargains and tougher settlement offers.

But hundreds of people are being kept in jail for unnecessary days and weeks for low-level, nonviolent offenses such as failure to appear in court or driving with suspended licenses because they can’t afford bail.

Or because they can’t afford an attorney and aren’t appointed an attorney before their bail is set at the end of a lengthy booking process.

Or because they were unable to cover bail, court costs, fees, fines and other debts from a previous court appearance.

Or because it’s taking our overburdened and overbearing judicial system longer to dispose of cases, a problem made worse by a beleaguered new computer system.

Or because they are waiting weeks and even months for the state to evaluate their mental competence. Shelby County has more seriously mentally ill inmates than all state psychiatric hospitals in Tennessee combined.

County officials are more than aware of the problems.

Since 2015, the MacArthur Foundation has given Shelby County three grants totaling $650,000 for “finding ways to safely and sustainably reduce unnecessary jail incarceration” and “reducing jail misuse and overuse.”

Since 2015, Shelby County has been finding ways to mysteriously increase an incarcerated person’s average length of stay and to dangerously increase the misuse and overuse of the jail.

The MacArthur grants’ goal was to reduce the jail’s population by more than 20 percent. Instead, jail population has increased about 20 percent.

The longer someone stays in jail, the more the jail population rises, and the more stress it places on jailers and inmates, not to mention the entire criminal justice system.

The longer someone stays in jail, the more it costs us all now. County taxpayers are spending about $100 a day to keep someone in jail. For every 100 inmates, that’s $10,000 a day, or $3.65 million a year. That’s about how much the county spends each year on pre-K.

The longer someone stays in jail, the more it costs us all later. The longer a low-level, nonviolent offender who is mentally ill, addicted or traumatized stays in jail, especially without adequate consistent treatment, the more likely that someone will become a repeat and more serious offender.

Reducing the jail population isn’t going to get any easier. The Criminal Justice Complex is getting a multiphase, multimillion-dollar total renovation. That will keep judges, prosecutors, public defenders and jailers moving around two floors at a time for months.

A jail isn’t a prison. It isn’t a psychiatric hospital or an addiction treatment center. It’s a pretrial detention center. Its primary purpose is to detain people who are a risk not to return to court or who present an immediate danger to others.

Sheriff Bill Oldham, Mayor Mark Luttrell and other county officials shouldn’t wait for their successors to be elected in August. They should find ways to “reduce jail misuse and overuse” now before a federal judge orders them to do so.

Online: https://www.commercialappeal.com/


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