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COMMENTARY : NIMBY? No, Monitoring Is Just Bad Idea

April 18, 1993|JOHN KELLY | John Kelly is a civil engineer who lives in Monrovia

On March 30, the Monrovia City Council unanimously denied a conditional-use permit to Linda Connelly & Associates for certain operations of a business that electronically monitors people convicted of misdemeanors and low-level felonies. Monitoring is done using a device secured around the offender's ankle.

The city had issued a business license to LCA to perform administrative work and electronic monitoring, but the March 30 vote denied LCA permission to have offenders visit Monrovia for in-person supervision.

LCA has threatened legal action. Whether or not the city can afford this fight may be irrelevant. Apparently, similar operations have been established elsewhere, and, detrimental to the neighborhood or not, are operating unencumbered by local authorities.

It seems unlikely that a judge would side with the city, for this would set a precedent that could lead to these programs being shut down statewide.

An agreement, short one crucial point, was reached between the city and LCA. The county Probation Department had agreed to give the Monrovia Police Department a list of the offenders with birth dates, and conviction offenses, but the Probation Department and LCA would not agree to a strict definition of a "low-level offender."

With the outright denial of the conditional-use permit--and if LCA prevails in litigation--LCA might not even have to comply with the conditions already agreed upon. So this battle victory may be the precursor to unconditional surrender.

There is still one plan of attack that has not been pursued, but which must. Connelly and the Probation Department have argued that the opposition to this program was simply NIMBYism--Not in My Back Yard. They have a point. And those who are leading this fight must understand the ethical foundation of what they believe is their right to prohibit this business from operating in Monrovia.

Proponents say this program helps offenders who have simply made a mistake. It helps the families of offenders who rely on them for support. It relieves the financial burden of incarceration or probation supervision. The community benefits because it retains an otherwise productive, stable member of the community. This, we are told, is a win-win-win situation.

Indeed, opponents who spoke at the hearings said they believed the program to be well-intentioned. So why would anybody refuse to take part in such an honorable undertaking? Those opposed to this program's presence in Monrovia must answer this.

A couple of years ago, residents in an east Pasadena community were successful in stopping the opening of a county probation office in their neighborhood. They accomplished this through pure politics, and they unabashedly practiced NIMBYism. Now this probation office is operating in another community, perhaps where the residents are not so cognizant of such happenings, or perhaps where residents are unable to exert political pressure. This is the nature of NIMBYism.

The alternative to NIMBYism, the ethical argument, is simple: This program is not just detrimental to my neighborhood; it is detrimental to all neighborhoods because of how it affects society, and it must be opposed because it is unacceptable anywhere.

The monitoring program has been praised as a partial solution to an overcrowded justice system. But what is it that has brought so much burden on our justice system? The strict, unyielding, machine-like application of laws and imposition of sentences? Or the contortion of laws, the endless review of extenuating circumstances, and pleas--and often demands--for leniency because of societal-induced behavior?

Contrary to what sociologists tell us, crime is not caused by poverty. Crime rates were much lower during the Depression, and there is minimal correlation between economic recessions and crime rates.

In actuality, there has been a slow deterioration of deterrents to crime. The primary deterrent was the threat of swift justice with imprisonment. Now, the convicted have almost as many rights as the accused and felony prison sentences are a fraction of what they were decades ago.

To deter an armed robber from escalating to murdering a store clerk, we threaten 10 years' imprisonment--with five years suspended and 2 1/2 years off for good behavior. Some deterrent. And what are we now using to deter those who would stage car accidents to collect insurance money? They are fitted with an ankle bracelet, told to stay home, and told they must keep a job.

We have stifled deterrents for career criminals, and, more important, we have all but eliminated the deterrent for potential first-time offenders. The first-time offender can now retain a family, a job, and a mostly normal life, and receive not a slap on the wrist, but a bracelet on the ankle.

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