Wednesday, June 10, 2009

Serf and turf

Yesterday I was driving by the Barry County Friend of the Court and noticed that the county was getting free landscape work courtesy of an inmate at the county jail. Well, free if you ignore the cost to the taxpayer to keep someone in the county jail and to drive them to a work site and to pay someone to keep an eye on them so they don't escape.

I know that often the tattooed arms that restrain the pets at the local shelter which get photographed and printed in the local paper belong to jail inmates who do jobs to help pay for their 3 squares and a bed at Sheriff Leaf's B&B. So it didn't seem unusual in any way to see one of trimming the lawn. In fact, it was nice to know some guy wasn't getting paid 3 times my hourly wage to enjoy the fresh air and sunshine while I toil away inside an office not quite enjoying the stale air and flourescent lighting.

Various citizens of Hastings were out walking the streets on a nice day. I noticed a few women strolling along a sidewalk not far from the inmate doing some weed whacking. I wondered how they felt looking over to realize a convict was standing not too far from them, without any apparent cuffs, leg irons, shackles or other implement to impede his movement that I could see. Even that didn't seem too odd given that this was at perhaps the busiest corner in the county, despite not seeing any armed guard or other presence to prevent an incident, since chances are this guy would like to hurry up and serve his time so he get out and perform the same menial task for at least minimum wage (if he's lucky enough to find employment, but that's another story I suppose). Maybe I've seen too many films but I half expected the Sheriff to be chewing on a toothpick or match, hand on his revolver or cradling a shotgun while keeping a watchful eye on his ward, but if any one was keeping an eye on the inmate while he performed his duties I didn't notice. I drove off without giving it any more thought.

Then today I drove by that same spot and what I saw did seem a bit off to me- enough to remember what I'd seen, and nearly forgotten, from the day before. The same jail inmate in his orange jumpsuit was in nearly the same spot behind the Barry County Friend of the Court building in downtown Hastings. This time instead of doing the yard work he was performing another task, a surprising one, at least as I saw it. This time the orange-adorned inmate was buffing a shine onto a nice looking black Chrysler (a 300, I believe).

Now, I have no way of knowing just from driving by and seeing this fleeting image whether the car in question is a county vehicle or privately owned but I didn't see any department insignia that would lead me to believe this car was official government property and I guess I didn't think a nicer car such as this would be used as a county vehicle- then again I still don't get why the Sheriff's Department has to drive gas guzzling SUVs while the state cops and city boys still seem to be able to fit their gear in a car just fine.

Is it just me or does anyone else see a different between making jail inmates do some yard work and having them shine a car, especially if the car isn't county property? If someone in the county might order him to clean their car would they then also ask to get their shoes shined? What is the limit of what these inmates are forced to do? Does any one care or does this fall into the common attitude that we don't care how prisoners are treated as long as we feel someone is "bring tough" on them?

Blogger's note: I though about waiting on this since I know local law enforcement is a bit pre-occupied tonight (my condolences to those affected) but I figured if I waited I'd just forget about it or put it off and it would be another month before I posted something.


agnosticrat said...

It is my understanding that prisoners are "allowed" to "volunteer" for such duty.
The result being that as we get low cost workers, (possibly displacing a job for someone who would have to be paid full wages) and citizens get the ability to overreach with the saccharine rationale that we are helping an inmate learn a job. A job that will be taken by another inmate as soon as this one is released.

The Last Boy Scout said...

We have a President who is systematicaly taking over the banking and manufacturing in this Country and your worried about an inmate at a County Jail waxing a car??

Pol Watcher said...

Add LBS to the list of the many numb skulls who "magically" forgets Bush is the one who demanded we give billions to billionaire bankers (in the dead of night with no oversight and no plan) who wrecked their own companies. Boy Scout and a few other dead enders also fail to grasp the fiscal ramifications of letting "conservative" policies play out and kill off American manufacturing once and for all- or is that they hoped Obama would be stupid enough to let these companies die so that they could then turn around and blame him for that too? Nice change of subject though- notice how they always do that? Can't seem to actually argue what is being discussed or to bother to bring facts to the table.

The Last Boy Scout said...

Gerorge Bush is not now nor has he ever been a Conservative! Some of his policies were Conservative, but most were not! Bush is gone (thank God), but Bush couldn't have spent a dime without the OK from Congress (which I believe was controled by the Democrats). I did not vote for Vern Ehlers because he voted for the bailout.
If your looking for policies that kill off business you have to look no farther than Michigan. Michigan has the HIGHEST taxes on Business, the HIGHEST legislative costs and the HIGHEST unemployment to go with it.
We now have a President who is spending Trillions of dollars WE DON"T HAVE TO SPEND. He has Nationalized the Banks and the Auto Industry (He'll get Ford in a year or two). He is mad with power and Congress does nothing.
The People are waking up and in 2010 the liberals better watch out!

agnosticrat said...

I am curious as to the likelihood we may have too many guards for our county lockup?
I mean if we can afford one less guard at the jail itself in order to keep track of one prisoner at the county courthouse, what happens to that guard when he is not on special assignment? Does he simply hang around? Does he go home until there is a "need" to have the hedges trimmed or a car washed once again? Is he on call? Does he get paid to be on call? Or does he likely get paid whether he is out on "special assignment" or not?
On the other hand he may not be a guard at all.
Maybe he is an officer with the Barry County Sheriffs Department, or (less likely) a city police officer.
Maybe someone in the know that is monitoring this blog could give an answer?
LBS, your name pops up quite often here when we discuss matters involving the sheriffs dept. Do you know?

Pol Watcher said...

"The Michigan House of Representatives hired Anderson Economic Group to produce three separate reports establishing benchmarks for three areas critical to our state's economy: business taxation, education, and infrastructure. ...
Our analysis concluded that Michigan is not among the top ten performing states for business taxes..."

So, in other words even the state's Republicans know this to be a lie and yet they have made it a talking point their unthinking robots repeat! Surprised, anyone?

This site has Michigan ranked 20th in the nation in state business tax, moving up from dead center the year before (higher means lower taxes in this case- in other words Michigan has improved in the last year so the criticism is even more worthless this year than it was last year). Michigan sits between Arizona and Alabama!

Note that neither of these sites are "liberal" in any way, shape or form! Please bring facts to your arguments if you wish to be taken seriously. MICHIGAN IS NOT A HIGH TAX STATE! You can repeat it all you want but that doesn't make it true. If I want to hear what the GOP talking points are I can read it off their web site!

el grillo said...

I am surprised at the tone of this post. I had thought that you were better informed regarding the tremendous reputation that Barry County has earned regarding the rehabilitation of law-breakers.

I would have thought that the outrage would have been directed at the requirement to parade around in bright orange coveralls, which is reflective of a scarlet letter approach to the law.

Forgive my repetitive rant to remind you that if a person is a real threat to society, he would probably not be in the County Jail, and certainly would not be picked up by the County Maintenance people to work in the center of Hastings without restraints. I'm embarrassed to have to repeat for your benefit that these people will all be returned to society and will be expected to behave just like the rest of us.

The real question is:
What are you doing to help this process?

I don't expect much from TLBS, pero ustedes .....

el grillo said...

I have to add that the County Jail is not a free hotel. Inmates are required to pay for room and board. "Three hots and a cot" is an expression worthy of country music and not much else.

agnosticrat said...

Thanks for the input Grillo. I knew it made no sense to pay a guard for this duty. I at no time considered such a person as threat to my well being. Personally I hope for the day that the only people behind bars,(locally, and otherwise) are those considered threats to society. I guess what I am trying to say is: if they are no threat to me in broad daylight on the courthouse lawn then why the hell are we keeping this person incarcerated?
The amount of money inmates spend to be in the lockup not withstanding, it still costs taxpayers gobs of cash.
As far as jumpsuits go they really make no difference other than to glorify anti social behavior.
How much does an x-large "gangsta orange" jumpsuit cost these days? They were probably inexpensive before Snoopdog wore one.

agnosticrat said...

Maybe LBS just got sold a bill of goods.
I googled "state with highest business tax" and found that there are an abundant amount of Republicans (all over the country) that are as confused as the Lost Boy Scout. They all believe that their state has the highest.
They sure saw you coming LBS! Next time they lie to you like that just say heck and walk away.

dmarks said...

"The result being that as we get low cost workers, (possibly displacing a job for someone who would have to be paid full wages)"

There's nothing wrong with that. The government's first mission should not be to waste money to overpay people.

But regardless, I think that buffing personal cars is not right, an abuse of the program.

LBS: Have you ever heard of multi-tasking? Or do you have a cognitivie disorder whereby you can possibly consider more than one problem at one time?

Michigan is indeed a high tax state, with punitive overtaxation. It is not saying it that makes it true, but the over-high rates that discourage investment and force businesses to leave the state that make it true. This has nothing to do with mythical "GOP talking poins". An accountant friend of mine tells of many cases where his clients move to Florida or other such places where they pay much lower taxes than in Michigan. The tax rate can be lower here. Granholm refuses to cut flagrant waste spending.

el grillo said...

I suppose that since very few people understand anything about incarceration, this thread should entertain nonsense about taxation (which is equally misunderstood).

"flagrant waste spending" brings to mind the fact that about 60% of the state budget is devoted to incarceration (called erroneously "corrections"). This pretty much supports the notion that the USA needs to step up the pace to keep up with Russia in the number of citizens in our slammers.

"if they are no threat to me in broad daylight on the courthouse lawn then why the hell are we keeping this person incarcerated?"

Exactamente! Why indeed!

Part of the problem has to do with our socialist form of government (which your typical AM radio host refers to as 'freedom-lovin'-democracy'). "Mandated sentencing" means that some lawyer in the state legislature fails to understand that the word "Judge" refers to a person who has enough intelligence to tailor the consequences to fit the criminal.

Sinners who get caught have to get punished, because we all know that punishment is the best form of behavioral education and has a record of returning people to society cured of all tendencies to make bad decisions. I have a few shares of ownership of a bridge you might be interested in.

More to the point, we have a tendency to see incarceration from the point of view of Wild West movies, with hardened criminals behind bars. The real problem gets solved at the second-grade level. Any second-grade teacher wore his/her salt can name the kids who need help in this area (family problems, health problems, learning difficulties, etc). Providing this help in a timely and effective way will avoid violent behaviors in the future (providing that their pistol-packin'-mama can be avoided).

agnosticrat said...

"..."Judge" refers to a person who has enough intelligence to tailor the consequences to fit the criminal."
Careful cricket, The GOP has structured talking points for you.I am sure you get them in the newsletter. No need to off script. Particularly while there is a supreme court nomination at hand!

"The government's first mission should not be to waste money to overpay people."
umm not really?!?
There is that whole "provide for the common defense", "promote the general welfare" thing that comes wayyyyy before saving money.

Molli said...

Our orange jump-suited young man is a "trustee" and he doesn't have a guard. Matter of fact, they used to make them walk from the jail down to the courthouse. We only get one of them at a time and they help out building and grounds. There is the community improvement crew doing the grand projects, they are all out of jail and doing their remaining community service.

We've had some long term trustees. One helped drywall and paint my office this summer. We had a painter who did the stairwells on the upper floors a couple years ago. We had a guy named Gil for over 9 months once, he received a stellar job recommendation when he was done.

dmarks said...

El Grillo: A huge amount of waste can be gotten rid of in the Michigan budget with a few steps:

1) Impose a top pay limit on government employees of $120,000. We have some state employees pulling in $600,000 a year. Unconscionable considering the budget problems.

2) Fully embrace alternatives to incarceration for non-violent offenders. There's a lot of savings to be had in the corrections department. As it looks like you know

3) Repeal "prevailing wage" for state contracts and replace it with a best-contract policy. This would free up about $50 million to $100 million of pure waste spending which can be then be used for infrastructure repairs.

4) Kill the new State Police post boondoggle.

Agnosticrat said: "There is that whole "provide for the common defense", "promote the general welfare" thing that comes wayyyyy before saving money."

Shutting down prison industries because of unreasonble objections by unions is not sometihng that promotes the general welfare.

el grillo said...

You seem to get some of it right.

Thanks for the details. It helps to have knowledgeable comments on here. We may still have room for input from Charlton Park, if they still use trustees. Much of the work at the park was done by trustees in the past, and I have seen some helping with the trash at special events (without a Barney in tow, and not in orange costumes).

I always get a chuckle when the issue of pay and benefits comes up. Very few government employees get six-figure incomes, so if we got really stingy we might save a million bucks. While we did that a bill would pass to waste fifty times that amount, by dummies that got elected on the basis that they looked good on TV. For every person that takes home $600,000 there is a dozen folks in the State Prison who should have been dealt with when they were kids and are now a threat to society and another dozen that probably could still be rehabilitated.
Personally, I would give every outrageously overpaid executive a raise to a cool $million if he/she could prove that they had the ability to lead other people, and could prove that they were capable of making decisions that were above average.

You might want to consider the consequences of underpaying employees. I heard that the Molson Brewery has reduced the monthly gift of six cases of beer to three. I predict that the employees will return to stealing ten cases, which probably inspired the gift-giving years ago.

We could have charged Dink Cheney a fee for being the Veep. He probably wouldn't have missed the small change. "Supporting" the troops can be very rewarding.

el grillo said...

How do I subscribe to the talkin' points newsletter? All I get is a weekly e-mail from Obama. Since my TV quit on the 12th, I'm forced to find my news on my computer, and since I have most of my links connected to Costa Rica and BBC/Rueters all I get is an assortment of facts that I have to interpret without the benefit of an AM radio scholar.
It appears from your sidebar that Sotomayer belonged to an all-girls club, so if you have an inide track on that membership you can sign me up for that as well. I'll change into a dress.

el grillo said...


dmarks said...

"so if we got really stingy we might save a million bucks"

Cutting the pay to reasonable amounts of just 3 or 4 of Michigan's vastly overpaid government employees would net this million. Then you can work on the rest, and get a lot more.

"You might want to consider the consequences of underpaying employees"

If you underpay them, they leave. Then you need to increase the pay. The pay should be increased for good reasons, not mindlessly caving into "gimme" demands or sneaky pay raises like the Legislature gets away with.

"We could have charged Dink Cheney a fee for being the Veep"

I agree. At a minimum, the millionaires who insist on a government salary when they "serve" are showing that their first priority is getting more loot. Unfortunately, most of the millionaires do this. Even the Obamas.

"While we did that a bill would pass to waste fifty times that amount"

Big government waste is made up of a lot of little wasteful programs that all add up. Cutting the overpay (mad money for millionaires) is a no-brainer. Spend the money instead for services for the poor, instead of making rich government employees richer.

el grillo said...

Setting limits on executive pay for those companies that are accepting money from the government seems like a good idea.

dmarks said...

I certainly agree with that. Same with clobbering them for getting around wage limits with undeserved bonuses, too. How can the guys who destroyed AIG (for example) deserve any bonuses? As long as they are on the dole, attach strings.

If they are not on the dole, the Feds should not set wages.

el grillo said...

Absolutely correct, assuming that being on the dole includes no-bid contracts for government out-sourcing, etc. I would think that the rarely-mentioned Blackwater (another name for sewage) would be considered "on the dole", as would anybody who supplies them with weapons, ammo, waterboards, etc.

Perhaps an entire industry, such as agri-business, that gets protection and subsidies should also be considered "on the dole" and therefore the compensation of the CEO of ADM might be up for examination.

In a country as regulated (or de-regulated) as the US it is hard to identify anybody who is not on the dole.

The return of my Social Security contributions has been a wonderful dole. Most of my friends in Costa Rica do not look forward to such a huge guaranteed annual income, which makes me wealthy beyond their imaginations. I probably don't represent a threat to the economy.

dmarks said...

Well.... I don't think there should be no-bid contracts, anyway. This is a type of bad-government "close to fraud" situation for contracts that must be abolished, just like prevailing wage.

I agree on agribusiness, too. No more subsidies. However, the tax breaks they get aren't subsidies. It's not a gift to steal less from someone. But still there is enough actual subsidy to cut and save money.

Social Security... what a mess. The whole thing as it is should be abolished. No more special paycheck taxing. Just take it out of the general fund. Replace it with a welfare program that gives money to the needy retired. Only the needy.

To me, the big problem with Social Security is that it is not means tested.

Lone Voice said...

Lone Voice said...
Did anyone else wonder yesterday after reading the local paper who was running the local sheriff's dept?

If the quote is correct it would appear that Sheriff Leaf has a policy that his officers can work when and where they want and he pays them.

If one is to believe what you see and hear on the tv reality shows investigating drug activity is dangerous and they never do it alone, yet in our county apparently the local drug officer was allowed to to come and go on his own

Seems like a great way to have a disaster happen.


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