Thursday, December 11, 2014

[satire alert] A Sincere Letter Requesting State Funds For The Construction Of A $63 Million Jail (in the unlikely event we decide to build one, which we probably won't, but we do need to get in line for the free money)

This attempt at some tongue-in-cheek humor about our community's fast track process (in applying for state money for possible jail construction) is not meant to offend. I continue to highly value, respect and pray for all of our local policy makers.

Dear friends in Richmond,

Here is our sincere request for a half of the construction cost of a second jail we may decide to build right next to our County/City Landfill, where we deposit our refuse and where we hope we won't get a lot of "NIMBY" (not in my backyard) from local residents.

As you will see below, we've done everything required in order to get in line for millions in state matching funds, money we understand comes from taxes levied elsewhere (hopefully outside the commonwealth, but certainly outside our Valley). We're not the richest locality in the state, so we could sure use this form of public assistance, and as you will see, we've taken all the steps necessary to qualify for it--and in a fraction of the time the City of Richmond took to go through a similar process. We went through all the steps in a mere five months instead of their five years, then wrapped everything up this week in three days. Is that speedy or what?

Step One: As you can see, we've already come up with the mandatory Community-Based Corrections Plan, one that's required to show how we are going to reduce the number of people we put behind bars while at the same time proving that we need to increase the number of beds available to put more people behind bars. That seemed a little tricky for us to pull off, and since our time was really short to get in line for the free money by our end-of-year deadline, we decided to outsource this inconvenience to a group in Richmond who can do this sort of thing quickly, and at just over $1000 a page. And as the report shows, over the past two decades we've found ways to add five times the number of people we have in our jail, while our population has grown only 25% and our crime rate is actually decreasing.  We sincerely hope all this makes sense to you!

Step Two. You also require that we have a twenty-member Community Criminal Justice Board to give their approval to such a plan and to advise and to oversee such matters. This was a fairly easy step, since all of the members of the CCJB are good folks who are already on our local government payroll, and most of them are salaried by the very criminal justice system they are to oversee. I'm sure you can see how this made things a lot simpler!

Knowing we were so short of time this group met within two weeks of copies of the Richmond-produced Community-Based Corrections Plan first being available. Their first action was to approve the minutes of their last meeting of just over a year ago, which shows that the group meets at least annually. And in spite of their busy schedules, they took the time to give their unanimous approval in short order, in a room packed with 150 cranky citizens from the community who were there to observe the process and to show their wish for more time for a community-based study that might involve, for example, some Restorative Justice alternatives in some cases. But the 20-member CCJB  fearlessly moved to approve the Richmond plan with no actual debate and no dissent. What a miracle!

Step Three: On the very next evening the five-man City Council met to give its approval to what the CCJB had just passed the day before. Only one member of the Council voted against it, and three others declared they didn't think a jail would (or even should) actually be built, but that it was their responsibility to apply for all the free money they could get in order to build another jail in case they decided later they needed a second jail after all. We hope all this makes sense!

It certainly makes sense to us, in spite of the fact that all the citizens packed in the meeting room were opposed to asking for assistance for additional jail space at $200,000 per bed and with an annual $10 million estimated operating cost. These disgruntled types just couldn't seem to understand that all the Council wanted to do was to have everyone vote for the proposal so that those who wished could then later vote against it. Yet in spite of their best efforts to explain this, the naysayers in the room just couldn't grasp the concept. So it appears that not only are we not the richest locality in the state, we're probably not the brightest, either, given this inability to convince the opposition of how much this actually makes sense, as it really and truly does, doesn't it?

Final Step: The very next afternoon the five-man County Board of Supervisors met to add its stamp of approval. All went smoothly as planned. The chair graciously expressed appreciation for the several dozen dissenters in the room, all those still not sure this kind of speed and efficiency is always good when it comes to $63 million questions. These attendees included, by the way, one 14-year-old young woman who had gathered over two hundred petition signatures (making now nearly 1000 in all, including an online version) of people who felt we should take more time instead of getting all this wrapped up in three days, just in time for Santa Claus (needless to say, we're great fans of the Richmond-based St. Nick!).

In conclusion, we hope all of you are impressed by how efficiently and agreeably we work together on things like this when we have to--and when there's money involved. With only one supervisor and one council member voting No, it also shows you how well we all get along and go along.

So please, please, give us a place--in whatever line we need to be in--for the free money. We'll figure out later exactly how we're going to use it.


Harrisonburg City Council
Rockingham County Board of Supervisors

P.S. Here is an audio link to the good conversation among members of the Harrisonburg city council on Tuesday. They, like our supervisors, are all good people who want what's best for our community and who have stated their willingness to hear from us:

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