A chance to start over
Feb 25, 2013 | 486 views | 0 0 comments | 3 3 recommendations | email to a friend | print
Today is the opening stanza of Freedom Week 2013, a five-day appeal by the Bradley County Misdemeanor Probations Office for violators of court-ordered penalties to step forward voluntarily in order to avoid new warrants for their arrest.

Not all Cleveland and Bradley County residents agree with such an opportunity — understandably, victims of crime — but in truth this once-a-year initiative is a noble cause intended to help those facing legal issues to start afresh while still paying their debt to society.

It also will help to keep the jail’s population in balance and thereby will save taxpayer dollars used for prisoners’ housing. And, it will allow warrant and probation officers to make better use of their time in working with those who are conscientiously trying to make good on court directives.

In Sunday’s edition, our newspaper published the names of 1,700 alleged probation violators in cooperation with the Misdemeanor Probation Office. Those whose names appear on this list are in violation of certain court orders that include, but are not limited to:

1. Failure to perform community service;

2. Lack of payments on fines, costs, restitution or fees;

3. Missed appointments; and

4. Failure to attend DUI schools.

It is this group of court-order violators who are in danger of being hunted down, arrested again, returned to jail and who will come face-to-face with a judge whose first question will be, “Why have you failed to comply with this court’s orders?”

Regardless of a violator’s power of persuasion, facing an angered judge won’t be an enviable task. And any absence of a legitimate answer will just make matters worse. We won’t presume to serve as judge or jury, but courts of law are serious places. Any signs of contempt in front of a judge — which include wrong words or impatient responses — could multiply the original offense.

For all practical purposes, Freedom Week 2013 is a last-ditch effort by the Misdemeanor Probations Office to help violators avoid a return to the court system.

Those who respond to this rare chance will be given every benefit of the doubt. Those who ignore it can expect a visit soon by law enforcement officers or their authorized representatives.

Some offenders on the violations list should be thankful they’re getting this week of amnesty because, frankly, their crimes — in the views of some — warrant a little, if not a lot, of time behind bars. A few examples might include: Immediate Meth Precursor, those who are trying to obtain ingredients to manufacture methamphetamine; Driving Under the Influence on 1st, 2nd and 3rd offenses; and Theft Under $500 which most commonly is shoplifting.

Make no mistake. Probation violators should not see Freedom Week 2013 as law enforcement gone soft. Check out this comment by a Misdemeanor Probations Office representative, “Many of our community’s children come to school unprepared because their parents may have custody of them but fail to parent their children due to their own selfish lifestyle of drugs, alcohol, unemployment, disinterest in education for their children, and disinterest to have a good life and want more for their children.”

Those aren’t the words of law enforcement gone soft. That’s a warning. The wise will take heed.

It’s this simple. Probation violators are being granted a one-time opportunity to turn their lives around. We suggest they take it by calling the Bradley County Misdemeanor Probation Office at 423-728-7121. You have through Friday, March 1, to make the call.

Others who may call are those who know someone whose name appears on the list or who know that a probation violator has recently passed away. In some cases, a person might not even know his or her name is on the list.

Make the call.

Start over and set the record straight. Those who don’t could go straight ... back to jail. No passing “Go” and no collecting $200.

Making the right decision today can impact everything you do for the rest of your tomorrows.