25 July 2008

Smaller Jails = No Pre-Sentence Conversions

Back when I was in the Richmond area it was very common that a defendant would find Jesus before he had to face the judge for sentencing. He'd bring in his pastor or a stack of certificates showing he'd completed religious classes and the defendant would swear that he'd seen the light and would walk the straight and narrow from this point in his life forward. It didn't often work, but it was something that a lot of defendants did. I was thinking about this today and realized that I hadn't seen a single defendant do this in the courthouse I now practice in. I started wondering why and one reason came to mind: jail space.

In Chesterfield County, where my office was located, the county jail had beds for about 300 people. Riverside Regional Jail, which housed most of Chesterfield's inmates, had a capacity for over 700; hearsay had it that over half those beds were filled by Chesterfield alone. Other jurisdictions had similar setups with local and regional jails (the exception being Richmond proper which jammed a couple thousand into its 900 capacity jail). With that much space, judges did not feel pressure to lower bonds to free beds.

The local churches and ministries viewed these jails as target rich environments. Ministers and laymen would come in to hold services and have religion classes. Inmates with nothing else to do would go out of belief, to be entertained or to make some sort of good record to show the judge during sentencing. By the time they had spent 6 months in jail waiting for their felony trial date their religious credentials were well established and they always wanted to make sure the judge knew.

On the other hand, the localities here all pitched in to build a 270 inmate regional jail and closed down the local jails. With so few beds there is less ability to hold people in jail pending trial. Thus, while I'm certain that some churches send people into the jail, it just doesn't provide quite the target rich environment that I'd seen in my prior jurisdiction.

I'm sure there are other factors as well, but this was a stray thought which hit me as I considered some of the differences between different jurisdictions I've been in.

No comments: