Things aren’t looking good for the relationship between Rutherford County and Pathways Community Corrections, the private company under contract here to provide misdemeanor services.
A split-up could be in the offing.
So far, the county and PCC (formerly Providence Community Corrections) haven’t won an argument in U.S. District Court in the class action lawsuit filed on behalf of probationers by Washington, D.C.-based Equal Justice Under Law.
The defendants’ case began to look bleak after federal Judge Kevin Sharp determined PCC and the county are stepping on probationers’ constitutional rights by issuing warrants for their arrest and having them jailed in some cases over their inability to pay fines, fees and bonds, especially in cases involving indigent probationers.
Sharp granted an injunction spurring General Sessions Court Judges Ben Hall McFarlin and Barry Tidwell to order the release of 13 people being held in Rutherford County jail because they’d been violated for failing to pay court costs, fines and fees.
“A preliminary injunction is an extraordinary remedy never awarded as a right. But the injustice perpetrated here is that: extraordinary,” Sharp wrote in his ruling.
Sharp also used the word “scheme” to refer to the probation situation here. And, he found Rutherford County’s jailhouse guilty pleas “troubling,” cases in which probationers meet with judges and prosecutors and are given a option to plead guilty immediately to an alleged probation violation and receive a sentence or seek representation and wait for a formal revocation hearing, which can mean sitting in jail for weeks.
PCC, a large publicly-traded company, denies wrongdoing and contends it is following state laws in handling cases. During a recent county government meeting, Mayor Ernest Burgess spoke publicly on the matter for the first time, saying the county is simply following state laws.
But considering the county is on the losing side before the case is even argued, the likelihood of change in the probation system here is strong.
Rutherford County started contracting for probation services more than a decade ago because the Circuit Court Clerk’s office couldn’t keep up with the demand and was losing hundreds of thousands of dollars a year. People just weren’t paying.
Well, they’re certainly paying now, some getting caught up in the system for three to four years and paying thousands of dollars over and above their initial fines and fees. Parents and grandparents usually wind up paying because young people simply can’t come up with the money. A couple of tick-tack charges and you can be down $4,000 real quick.
While Rutherford County depends on PCC to bring in the money, budgeting about $1.5 million in revenue this year from fines and fees, PCC is making a pretty nice chunk of change, though nobody knows how much because it’s a private company. To this point, Rutherford County isn’t asking many questions, at least not publicly.
Here’s the solution: Even though costs could increase, Rutherford County needs to set up its own probation service, using county employees to oversee the program. Its goal should be to make sure people pay their court costs, attend their required courses and—primarily—get off probation as soon as possible.
Keeping probationers in the system and shuffling them in and out of jail affects people’s lives—especially those at the bottom of the pay charts—and hurts the community as a whole.
In our zeal to push violators away from us into a black hole somewhere, we’ve created a segment of society whose lives revolve around their next court date. We need to stop the cycle.
Abortion Rights Battle Brewing
People typically don’t hop in the car and drive across the country for a court arraignment. But that’s what happened after Murfreesboro resident Anna Yocca was indicted on a charge of attempted first-degree murder for allegedly trying to abort her unborn child some 24 weeks into her pregnancy.
Members of the group Stop Patriarchy traveled here from New York, Atlanta and other cities to support 31-year-old Yocca, who was arraigned via video recently from the Rutherford County jail where she’s being held on a $200,000 bond.
Wearing T-shirts with the words “abortion on demand and without apology,” more than a dozen members of Stop Patriarchy contended she shouldn’t be charged at all. They stood and raised their fists as they left Judge Royce Taylor’s courtroom chanting, “Free Anna Yocca! Free Anna Yocca!”
Outside the Judicial Building, they shouted, “Fetuses are not babies! Women are not incubators! Abortion is not murder!”
“When a woman attempts a coat-hanger abortion, it’s the patriarchal system that’s guilty of murder against her,” said Adreinne Luendo, a member of the group from New York Center.
The group also referenced comments from Bob Avakian, chairman of the Revolutionary Communist Party, stating attacks on abortion are “a way of enslaving women to the dictates of an oppressive male supremacist, patriarchal system; and that is what the cruel fanatics who are determined to deny women the right to abortion are really all about.”
Tennessee is fresh off passing a constitutional amendment giving the Legislature more authority to restrict abortions. The General Assembly did so last session, passing laws requiring a waiting period for women and more restrictions for clinics.
According to a Murfreesboro Police report, Detective Tommy Roberts began investigating the Yocca case in September when evidence showed she went to her upstairs bathroom, filled the tub with water, got in and tried to “self-abort” her pregnancy with a coat hanger.
She became “alarmed and concerned for her safety” when she saw a lot of blood in the tub, and her boyfriend took her to St. Thomas Rutherford Hospital emergency room. From there, she was transported to St. Thomas Mid-Town in Nashville where staff members saved “Baby Yocca,” according to police.
Roberts reported the nurses and doctors he interviewed indicated Anna Yocca made “disturbing statements” about the baby and wanting to terminate her pregnancy with the coat hanger.
Even though the baby survived the trauma, the boy weighed only 1.5 pounds at birth, and physicians said the child’s quality of life “will be forever harmed.”
This case isn’t likely to create a debate over the right to an abortion, but it does raise questions about the timing, in this case about 24 weeks, possibly 26 weeks.
The viability of the baby, or its ability to live outside the womb, is the question. And “Baby Yocca” is still alive, though in seriously poor health, according to the police report.
Members of Stop Patriarchy, whose position would have to be considered somewhat extreme, said they drove all the way from New York because they felt it was “that important.” Some people also raised a ruckus about a news report with Yocca’s street address, claiming people would go to her home and harm her.
Since Yocca’s arrest, people have been willing to come to her aid. And that’s fine. But nobody has said one word to me about the plight of the child.
As most people know, America’s Civil War didn’t end in April 1865. We’re still fighting it to some degree. The Confederate battle flag wasn’t removed from the South Carolina Statehouse grounds until this summer after a young man opened fire and killed numerous people at a historically black church. When people started checking into his background, they found pictures of him wrapped in a Confederate flag.
That flap led a lot of young people to put gigantic rebel flags in the back of their pickup trucks and drive around our Middle Tennessee towns.
In Rutherford County, we’re having our own debate over the name of Confederate Gen. Nathan Bedford Forrest on MTSU’s ROTC building, Forrest Hall. Is it appropriate to have the name of a former slave owner and first grand wizard of the Ku Klux Klan on a state university building, regardless of his military prowess?
MTSU President Sidney McPhee appointed a task force to review the building’s name and public comment meetings are being held with views coming from all sides.
While many people born in the South have ancestors who fought in the Civil War and many Southerners tend to romanticize those long-ago battles in which thousands of people were killed in only one or two days of fighting, the question must be asked: How many nations allow the flag of a conquered army to be flown?
And how many silly statements must be made in the quest for states’ rights, one of the driving arguments for slavery in the time leading up to the South’s secession?
In a recent meeting between Rutherford County’s legislative delegation and the Rutherford County Commission’s steering committee, the discussion turned to a proposed states’ rights lawsuit being brought over the federal government’s refugee resettlement program. Some people are afraid terrorists will embed themselves in some 10,000 Syrian refugees expected to come to America from that war-torn country.
Legislators have been trying to pressure Gov. Bill Haslam to sign on to a lawsuit to extract Tennessee from refugee resettlement.
“It’s going to take somebody that’s got some guts that’s willing to step up and say, ‘Yes, we’ll be the plaintiff in the lawsuit,’” said state Sen. Bill Ketron, a Murfreesboro Republican.
To which County Commissioner Trey Gooch responded, “Hopefully, we’ll get some Yankee states, too, to participate.”