Sunday, July 05, 2009

In My Little Town

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Hardly a day goes by in Carthage lately that you don't see someone with a "No Downtown Detention Center" sign in his yard or someone marching with a similar sign on the lawn of the old courthouse.

They're protesting the county's plan to expand the current jail by adding 150 beds, utilizing land bought from my neighbor Johnny Grimm. The plan also proposes moving the Sheriff's office out of its current crowded rabbit warren in the ground floor of the county courthouse to the new expanded facility.

I confess, I'm still puzzled by the protests. After all, we've had a jail in the downtown area for as long as I can remember.

Heck, I've heard that the little bitty brick building under the water tower behind the Courthouse Square Mall used to be the county jail, and that's about as downtown as you can get in Carthage. (By the way, let me know if that story's true. I'm always interested in my town's history.)

Anyway, we've locked up the county's miscreants and alleged miscreants in a downtown facility for years now, and no one's voiced any real concern. Certainly, no one can deny that the current jail, not to mention the Sheriff's Office, are straining at the seams of their current facility like a fat guy after a big dinner at the Pik n' Pig. So what's the problem?

A friend of mine in law enforcement has a theory that the county made a tactical error when it dubbed the new facility a "detention center" rather than the more plain "jail." A "jail," after all, is where Sheriff Andy Taylor let the lovable drunk Otis sleep off his weekly bender. A "jail" is something you'd hear about in a country song. You know, where Jimmie Rodgers' friend Ramblin' Bob (that rascal) got locked up for "playing cards and a-shooting dice."

A "detention center," on the other hand, sounds so institutional and scary. A "detention center" sounds like Guantanamo Bay. Someone locked up in a "detention center" is presumably one really bad dude (or dudette, I guess).

Well, maybe my friend is right. But I've got to think that people realize a detention center and a jail are the same thing, and they hold the same types of offenders and alleged offenders. (I hate to keep belaboring that last point, but keep in mind what they say at the beginning of "Cops": "All suspects are innocent until proven guilty in a court of law.")

I'm sorry, neighbors, but it just seems a little late to be freaking out at the idea that criminals and those accused of crimes are going to be housed in downtown Carthage. It's not, after all, as if convicts are going to be running around loose.

If that's suddenly a major concern, then we should probably move the courthouse somewhere else, too. Not to mention the probation offices, the DA's office, and while we're at it, the Sheriff's department. Because when the accused and the convicted come to those places, they're not behind big steel doors locked with big steel keys, the way they are when being held in the jail.

Of course, we're not going to move those institutions. The main industry in this town, its reason for being, is county government. We are, after all, the county seat. That's why they put the courthouse way up on that hill, the highest point for miles around, looking out across the rolling landscape over the other towns of Moore County: because, since time immemorial, men have put their seat of government on the highest point they could find.

And where you have the seat of government, you have the place where justice is dispensed (at least that's what we hope). It just makes sense to put all of the places where that happens--courthouse, sheriff's department, and jail--as close to one another as possible.

Any other way becomes a security nightmare worse than anything you're going to have by putting a jail right next to where we already have one.


Jim Hetley said...

Well, "detention center" has a lot more syllables than "jail" -- much scarier.

Tom Panek said...

I'm glad you posed this question. I've been wondering about that for weeks now. ??