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Crime increase concerns DA

By Dan Hust
MONTICELLO — August 10, 2010 — Sullivan County District Attorney Jim Farrell is worried.
For the past four years, crime rates locally and nationwide have been falling. Not anymore.
“I think we’re seeing a change in that trend,” he ruefully remarked.
Farrell stopped by Thursday’s Public Safety Committee meeting of the County Legislature to share some disturbing statistics with legislators.
Comparing the second quarter of 2009 to the second quarter of 2010, DWI cases handled by his office increased by 26 percent.
Felony arrests went up 30 percent. And violent felony arrests rose by 43 percent.
That’s not as high as the first quarter of 2010, but Farrell said the increases remain “substantial.”
Asked after the meeting to explain the increases, Farrell blamed much of it on drugs in general and the repeal of the Rockefeller Drug Laws in particular.
“Probably 75-80 percent [of cases] involve some sort of substance abuse,” he explained. “And more people are not being punished in the way they were.… When someone is convicted of a drug crime, the likelihood of them spending any time in state prison is dramatically, dramatically reduced.”
While acknowledging the criticisms that the Rockefeller Drug Laws were overly harsh, their repeal has “swung the pendulum the other way,” said Farrell.
Even violent offenders nowadays can successfully apply for work release, he pointed out, allowing them to be back out in the community to commit more crimes.
But what about the impact of the recession on these statistics?
Farrell disagreed with any notion that the poor economy has spurred increases.
“What it [that idea] signals to me is that poor people commit crimes,” he remarked. “I don’t agree with that. Criminals commit crimes.”
Farrell said he was poor at one point in his life but did not turn to crime.
“And I rarely see a mother stealing bread to feed her family,” he said.
Instead, people are stealing cosmetics, electronics and other non-necessities – illustrating to Farrell that their focus is on feeling good rather than outright survival.
He considers the devaluation of family and religious activities as a key part of the problem, along with an unwillingness by some to sacrifice for the greater, long-term good.
As a result, he’s an advocate of community-oriented groups focused on prevention, not just punishment.
“Education is the key to this,” Farrell noted.
He’s grateful for the proactive involvement of not just these groups but local law enforcement agencies and schools.
Farrell and his fellow district attorneys across New York are also working on legislative initiatives to help head off this potential trend of crime. Plans include requiring DNA to be taken routinely in any arrest, changing policies and practices to not allow repeat felons to abuse the rehab/release system simply to get out of jail, and ensuring “truth in sentencing” – i.e., if someone is sentenced to five years in prison, they serve the great majority of that sentence rather than getting out early on.
These days, adults are more often the problem than kids, Farrell told legislators.
But he later added that schools cannot be the surrogate parent for the children of the county, who will one day become the adults of the county.
“We need engaged parents. We need them to set the right example,” he insisted. “Without them, we can do all this, and it doesn’t mean a damn thing.”

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