'Catch and Release'

Something is certainly askew when a person is taken into police custody on suspicion of some sort of illegal activity, and is released back into society shortly afterwards, with little oversight from the legal system. The situation vexed Manchester's police chief, Michael Hall, enough so that he recently took to Facebook to liken the situation to the rules protecting trout in the Batten Kill - "catch and release."

Everyone is innocent until proven guilty, and some alleged crimes are more serious than others. Some people have a track record indicating that they are more likely than others to commit additional crimes. It's a tricky balancing act, especially when the capacity of the state's prisons is less than they apparently should be, and the cost of incarcerating suspected felons isn't cheap.

But when at least two individuals caught up in the recent drug sweep in northern Bennington County were back out on the streets within a day or two, and went on to commit additional crimes soon afterwards that landed them back in Court, then it's worth asking how those sort of repeat offenses can be prevented. That would be benefit not only society and law-abiding citizens, but the perpetrators themselves, who in a time of crisis compounded their problems by more lawbreaking, in this case theft or burglary.

It gets tricky quickly though. How is a Court supposed make an educated guess about who is a threat to commit more crimes and who is likely to be sufficiently scared about one charge of drug trafficking to avoid more charges, whether drug-related or something else? Sometimes a prior record or history of behavior will give clues, but when the charge is something involving non-violent behavior, the shades of gray begin to form.

Obviously, it gets more clear-cut when violent acts are alleged. Such persons are clearly at risk to get violent again, and put other people at risk of harm. When the issue is drug trafficking, especially "hard" rugs like heroin, cocaine or pharmaceuticals, perhaps the courts should be stricter about imposing limits on how quickly suspected criminals can be out on some sort of supervised or restricted release, or released at all. The safety of the law-abiding public needs to be respected, along with a suspected lawbreaker's constitutional rights. And no doubt it's frustrating for the police, and the state prosecutors, to spend time and valuable resources to apprehend suspected felons, only to see them back out on the streets again after a brief court appearance.

It would be worth finding out what percentage of lawbreakers do commit more burglaries, etc. soon after.

Burglary and other (relatively) petty crime, often fueled by the money to be made or the addictions to be served, is a big problem in this state. It costs a lot of money to be a heroin addict. Most people who fall into that sad state aren't holding down high paying jobs. It's a vicious circle that will require more than just the police arresting such people and the courts locking them up for long enough to make a difference.

Whether the likelihood of some sort of obligatory stay in one of the state's prisons would be sufficient to deter criminal acts in the first place is unclear. Presumably, those who drift into drug-related criminal behavior have already made that risk/reward calculation, and have decided they won't wind up on the wrong end of that one.

At the very least, we'd like to see the various prongs of the legal systems - police, prosecutors, courts and corrections - aligned to the point that all are on the same page.

Then, we can get back to worrying about the endangered trout on the Batten Kill and elsewhere.


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