Wednesday, August 15, 2012

The Untold Toll of Using Jails as Debtors Prisons

For all of you who share my interest in prison reform, you will want to read the following sad letter by Michael Garner, an inmate at our local jail, that I received yesterday. He had read an earlier letter to the editor (see below) in which I questioned a news article in which Sheriff Hutcheson was quoted as saying that there is limited interest by inmates in work release options.

You may also be interested in the blog post of a another recent letter signed by 29 inmates who stated they would all gladly apply for work release programs. If you have any leads on possible work for Mr. Garner when he is released, I will gladly forward them to him.

Dear Mr. Harvey Yoder,

You don’t know me but I saw your letter in the newspaper. I myself posted a letter about people in jail for child support and in need of work release (DNR 7/7/12)...

Here’s what has happened in the last few months. On February 8 I came to the County Jail. On March 1 I was sentenced to twelve months for child support for my oldest girl who lives in Maryland. I made a few payment while I worked for Lantz Construction Company. I was laid off and began missing payments. I put an ad in the paper to do my own concrete work (driveway, sidewalk, steps, patio, etc.). Work came slow but I was able to pay bills for my family here (wife and three kids). We didn’t have much but we got by.

Since March 1 I have found out that my wife has lost our place and put everything we have in storage. Then on July 7, 2012, I am told to get ready for court. When I go to the courtroom I’m told that the State has taken my kids and my wife has become hooked on pain pills.

All of this came as a shock. Luckily my mom came here from North Carolina and got my kids (thank God). I have filed a motion to amend or review my sentencing order. What I’m asking for is the judge to change my sentence from twelve months to six months. At this time my family has been torn apart and I feel I have been punished more in the last six months than what the twelve months will ever do.

What I was wondering is do you know anyone who can either work me on their job or will help me get a job. I know this probably won’t be easy with all the things happening in the world but I’m hoping that if I can go in front of the judge with a job or the information of a job for when I get out he may change my sentence and I can begin the task of rebuilding my family’s life.

Below is some information about me and if you need to meet me or talk with me just let me know what I need to do.

Name: Michael Garner

DOB: 12/9/77

Experience: Twelve years of concrete work in construction but I am willing to do anything.

If you can help please let me know. If not that’s OK, I understand. I will be back in front of the judge September 17, 2012 at 9 am for reconsideration and if all goes well I can begin to rebuild September 18. Thank you for your time.


Michael Garner

Note: Here is a link for more information on debtors prisons. And here is a copy of the letter I had written to which this inmate is responding.

I was glad to hear our jail now offers some reentry education (DNR 7/14/12), but am confused by the statement, "One problem with work release is there's often a lack of inmates willing to volunteer for the program." I've never heard an inmate say that, and as a tax payer, I see only benefit in giving non-violent offenders more ways of providing for their families, paying their fines, and regaining their self respect.

In the words of Governor McDonnell, "Tough sentences are only half of the equation... We must provide real opportunities to prisoners to turn their lives around, and to become responsible and contributing members of society...."

An overcrowded jail with few opportunities for meaningful work or education will not help inmates do this. One answer is to apply recommendations made by the 2010
"Governor's Task Force on Alternative Sentencing for Non-violent Offenders," accessible  online.

Harvey Yoder 
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