Leader Blues

Wednesday, August 22, 2007

EDITORIALS>>County jail full

The city directors of Little Rock, who never heard the parable of the bloodless turnip, seem bent on suing the county government to force the county jail to absorb the city’s prisoners.

The city’s frustration is understandable. After a long decline, street crime is rising and the government’s inability to put miscreants in jail is at least partly responsible, probably mostly responsible. The criminal courtrooms are nothing more than revolving doors because there is no room in the county jail. That is true countywide, not simply in Little Rock.

Municipal lockups are supposed to be temporary holding facilities. Counties are supposed to house prisoners, but Pulaski County simply cannot fulfill its obligation. It does not have the money to operate the jail capacity that it has, and it wants municipal governments to contribute more.

Since the voters last year defeated a sales tax that would have opened existing beds and built more, there has been stalemate, the cities demanding that the county do something, the county shrugging. Opponents of the jail tax were going to produce a solution but they have been silent.

Little Rock directors said they sympathized with County Judge Buddy Villines’ dilemma but that it was still his problem and his obligation. So the city is going to sue.

What would it see as success? A court order to the county to provide jail space at whatever cost to other county services? The county is already under court directives not to unconstitutionally crowd. It is hard to imagine any remedy that a court might order that will make neighborhoods safer.

Every remedy is political, not judicial. Is there a tax that voters might approve or a dramatic reallocation of resources that people would stand for?

That is what political leadership is supposed to calculate. If there is any quotient of leadership in these elected officials, they will be meeting to work it out. — Ernie Dumas