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Phillips advocates for new justice center

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By Susan Sharp

By SUSAN SHARP

sharp@lafollettepress.com

County Mayor William Baird’s recent decision to halt construction of the new $7.2 million justice center has not set well with some people. Among those is Paul Phillips, the attorney general for the eighth judicial district.

“There is a public safety issue,” Phillips said on Monday.

The current lack of jail space means offenders must be placed on a supervised release program instead of behind bars. This coupled with the substance abuse problems many of them have creates safety issues for the general public, according to Phillips.  Citizens in Campbell County have realized because of this lack of jail space, their overall safety has been compromised, he continued.

“The first responsibility of the government is public safety,” he said.

Under the plan approved by the county commission and later vetoed by Baird, the county would have gained 200 beds for inmates. This would have made strides in the way criminals are currently being handled by the courts. As offenders move through the court system, judges are faced with the decision of probation versus jail time. But with a lack of space in Campbell County, judges are finding their options have been greatly narrowed, Phillips said.

“We can only be tough if we have jail cells,” he said. Phillips said he is currently aware of nearly 100 local offenders who should be behind bars but instead have been placed on a release program. “There is a direct relationship between a full jail and the number of people on a release status,” Phillips said. “There are some people who need to go directly to jail.”

While Baird has proposed renovating the old jail in an effort to save money and increase the number of prisoners served by the county, Phillips said he doesn’t believe that is feasible.

To begin with, it still would not provide enough space, he said. Along with it being a costly endeavor, Phillips said there is a third layer to the renovation. “It must meet constitutional standards,” he said. Given the history of the facility and the number of legal matters that arose from its condition, Phillips said he just doesn’t see that as a viable option.

Phillips said he had “the highest regard for the mayor and his attempt to fashion a solution at the most reasonable cost.”

But, he thought proposal drafted by the county commission was the answer.