I have worked in the mental health and substance abuse field for nonprofit agencies for over a decade. I read with great concern that the Riverhead Town Board is considering granting a special permit to allow a sober home run by Mainstream Houses, a for-profit organization, in an existing house on East Main Street. (more…)
When the plan to build a new Suffolk County county jail was first proposed about 10 years ago, the political and economic landscape in the county, as well as the nation as a whole, was dramatically different from what we have today. Even back then, when Suffolk County was running budget surpluses, opponents of the new jail project made good arguments that it was ill-conceived, from both budgetary and policy standpoints.
In retrospect, they were right.
Suffolk County is now facing budget deficits that may exceed $200 million in 2014. At the same time, county officials are considering moving forward with Phase II of the new jail in Yaphank, at an expected cost of $100 million, totally paid for by Suffolk taxpayers without any state or federal subsidies. It is madness.
During the past several years, analyses and studies by criminal justice experts have highlighted our flawed approach to crime and punishment nationwide. Accounting for population, the rates of incarceration in the United States are some of the highest in the world. This high rate of incarceration is largely created by our decades long “War on Drugs” and a get-tough-on-repeat-offenders strategy that mandated prison sentences for defendants regardless of the severity of their actual crimes. The result for states and other municipalities has been soaring expenditures for corrections and other related costs of criminal justice systems. These policies have had a crippling effect on state and local county budgets.
However, recent studies on a national level have indicated that this trend is being reversed. Most states have gotten smart about the cost of incarceration and the need to reduce jail populations through less costly alternatives. Even here in New York State, the prison population has decreased during the past few years, with state prisons being closed and costs statewide being reduced. In contrast, Suffolk County has been moving in the opposite direction, with more and more jail cells being built or proposed and increased numbers of people being incarcerated. It has to stop as soon as possible, or it will send this county into a fate similar to that of Nassau County, or worse, Detroit.
Suffolk County Sheriff Vincent DeMarco has been pressing forward with a plan to reduce the inmate population through less costly alternatives to jail and diversions from incarceration that could eliminate the need for the $100 million Phase II of the new Yaphank jail. Suffolk County legislators and taxpayers should heed his call.
By expanding current jail diversion programs through the Probation Department and the courts, along with implementing new, cost-effective initiatives to divert low-level offenders from incarceration, we can significantly reduce the inmate population here in Suffolk County without jeopardizing public safety. These alternatives to incarceration programs can save taxpayers both the cost of expanding the Yaphank jail, as well as the annual increase in operating expenditures associated with running and staffing this new jail, which would include both hiring more correctional officers and increases in overtime pay.
Suffolk County needs to get in step with the rest of the nation and avoid the costs associated with high rates of incarceration.
Jerry Bilinski is a case manager with a non-profit group that advocates for incarcerated and mentally ill people. He lives in Riverhead.
One of the great benefits of being an American is our freedom of engaging in free speech, especially in the area of political beliefs. It’s a right that we sometimes take for granted. We need only look to many other countries in the world to see how fortunate we are. Expressing a political belief can often lead to retaliation, imprisonment, torture and sometimes even death. Recent events in Syria and Libya illustrate this point — which brings me to the subject at hand: the theft of my Obama signs.
I am a supporter of President Obama and most of his agenda. Is he perfect? No. Even though I voted for him and supported his candidacy nearly four years ago, I am disappointed with some of the policies and positions he has taken after he was elected president. However, the nature of politics in America is that we have to choose the best candidate and sometimes compromise our own beliefs even if we personally don’t agree with every position and policy our candidate has taken, or failed to take or implement.
Be that as it may, I have elected to support President Obama in his efforts for a second term. I am deeply concerned about the Citizens United Decision and unlimited funds being poured into the election process in an effort to influence and perhaps hijack the political process from ordinary Americans such as myself. As such, I recently became more involved in President Obama’s local campaign and I agreed to place some Obama re-election signs on my front lawn.
I made a donation to the campaign to obtain these signs. Upon waking the following morning after putting them out, I discovered that all the signs had been removed. As a matter of principal, I called the police, who took a complaint. After all, these signs belong to me and were on my property when taken. At first I chalked up the sign thefts to a possible teen prank or isolated incident. I contacted the local Obama campaign person shortly thereafter and arranged to obtain some replacement signs. I placed them back on my lawn this past Sunday afternoon, along with a Congressman Bishop sign.
Unfortunately, when I awoke early Monday morning, the signs were missing once again. Now, I am not one of those paranoid conspirator types who believe tea party supporters or so-called Birthers are behind any and all anti-Obama incidents. However, I am now a little suspicious in this case as to the motivations of the culprits.
Is it just random vandalism? Or are some of my neighbors, who disagree with my political beliefs, sending a message? At this point in time do I just throw up my hands and give up or just bring in the signs after dark, as one of my friends suggested?
No. I will not compromise my right to express free speech, especially in the area of politics.
I decided to take the remaining Obama signs that I had, got out a ladder, hammer and some nails, and put the signs back up high on an old tree on my front lawn. For those who might have designs on again taking these signs, you will have to work for it! But please don’t cut down this old tree. As a sidebar, every time I have to replace the signs I am making a donation to the Obama campaign. In some twisted poetic justice, the perpetrators of the sign thefts are actually helping to fund the re-election of President Obama when they take these signs.
On another note, I would be remiss if I did not try and persuade those who are engaging in these seemingly innocent sign thefts that they are not just engaging in a tradition of political tomfoolery. On a daily basis, thousands of Americans are placing themselves in harm’s way in foreign lands to defend the rights that we have in America, including the right to express ourselves politically without fear of retaliation, arrest, torture or even death. Think about their sacrifices before you decide to steal, vandalize or take down the sign of a fellow American that expresses a political belief different from your own. We as Americans are better than that.
Jerry Bilinski lives near downtown Riverhead with his wife. He is a case manager in the nonprofit health care and human services field, assisting people with mental health disabilities.