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March 9, 2013

DODD: The system can’t be perfect

I spent some time Thursday at a press conference as Richard Hooten calmly told about how he had raped and killed a young woman in Clarksville. He also admitted to several other rapes or sexual assaults.

He talked as a matter-of-factly about a recent rape in Louisville in January. Richard Hooten should not have been walking the streets of our community. That’s an easy call to make today.

He had served the amount of time required by law for previous convictions. Nobody today will assert it was enough time. I know the public outcry. “Why was he out of prison?” “Why don’t we lock all criminals up forever and throw away the key?” Why do they ever get out?”

These are very simple questions that address very complicated problems. As I always write; whenever someone gives a simple answer to a complicated problem, that answer is either wrong or impractical.

If the answers to society’s complicated social problems were easy, the problems would have been solved a long time ago.

“Why was he out of prison?” The answer is simple. Almost anyone who breaks the law eventually gets out of prison.

“Why don’t we lock all criminals up and throw away the key?” We don’t have enough jails and prisons and not nearly enough money to build enough of them to do that. The last number I could find from 2009 showed we had 2,019,234 people locked up in the United States. In second place was China — whose total population is about four times our population — with 1,549,000 prisoners. It’s a numbers game.

“Why do they ever get out?” There are laws that apply in every state or under federal guidelines that mandate times served for various crimes. There are also decisions made by human beings at every level as to who gets out and when.

Parole boards, judges, juries, sheriffs, police chiefs and prosecutors make such decisions on a daily basis. Decisions such as these are as much of an art as a science. Humans who make these decisions are not always perfect. The humans about whom they have to make them are not always predictable.

What are the solutions? Triple the tax dollars now spent on the legal system and three times as many people can be locked up or the same amount of people for three times as long? Contact your state and federal legislators to change laws regarding sentencing? Hire or elect perfect human beings who are incapable of making human judgment errors?

I don’t know one person in the current legal or judicial system that thinks we have a human-error-free system. Add to that the compassionate people who believe in redemption and salvation. Know how much lobbying the legal community might do to get the attention of lawmakers. Factor in politicians who listen to the group who can deliver the largest number of votes on Election Day.

Another solution is to somehow get all of the people who abuse drugs and alcohol to stop. The jails/prisons are full of drug users, alcohol abusers and dealers, many of whom commit crimes to pay for their habit. If you have the way to accomplish that, please step forward with an affordable, practical, workable solution. As the Louisville Metro Police Department chief recently said, “We cannot arrest our way out of these problems.”

We need more rehabilitation programs, more mental hospital in-patient services, better parenting, more policemen, more judges and staffing within the courts and prosecutorial system. If not these things, we will need many more and larger jails and prisons.

I work for the Clark County Sheriff’s Department as a court liaison officer. I work in community corrections. I  see the problems and agree with the flaws inherent in the legal and judicial system. I also believe we have one of the more efficient and best systems in the world.

For most in the system, it’s like treading water in the deep end of the pool everyday while simultaneously holding a finger in the dam.

Is it really better to let 100 guilty people go free to avoid convicting one innocent person? One Ohio study I read stated that as many as 10,000 innocent persons are convicted of a crime each year.

Do we let out the molesters, the drug dealers, the home burglars, the armed robbers, the embezzlers, the wife beaters, the assaulters, the chronically mentally ill, or simply those that are locked up that have terminal or serious medical concerns for which the taxpayers have to foot the extensive medical bills while they are incarcerated as mandated by law?

Some offenders are going to get out every single day. The odds tell us it’s pretty safe to assume that eventually one of those releases will end in a tragic result for an innocent victim.

Richard Hooten is not remotely the only potentially violent ex-convict walking the streets in our community. Sooner or later, regardless of the nature of the crimes, eventually almost all of them will walk out of jail or prison. Statistically, I have seen figures of a low of 60 percent to as high as 77 percent of people who commit crimes are repeat offenders.

When that 17-year old girl opened her door unknowingly to allow a convicted sex offender to come into her apartment, only one of them had any idea what might happen.

Richard Hooten was not registered as a convicted sex offender as required by law.

— Lindon Dodd is a freelance writer who can be reached at lindon.dodd@hotmail.com

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