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Editorial: Why jails need cells

Here’s a good reason not to let the space crunch at the Rowan County Detention Center push defendants’ bonds lower: Laurence Alvin Lovette Jr., age 17.
While out on bond awaiting trial on several felonies, Lovette is said to have gone on a crime spree that started with the slaying of a Duke University graduate student in January and ended with the fatal shooting of Eve Carson, student body president at UNC Chapel Hill ó possibly the most high-profile random murder in this state since the killing of basketball star Michael Jordan’s father.
Lovette is innocent until proved guilty, as is the other man charged in Carson’s murder, 21-year-old Demario James Atwater. But both were on probation for previous convictions, and their new charges call into question both the effectiveness of probation and, in Lovette’s case, the practice of releasing suspects on bond. To be fair, the crimes for which Lovette was on probation were not violent ó misdemeanor larceny and breaking and entering, pleaded down from felonies. The charges on which he was awaiting trial ranged from burglary to car theft, also seemingly not life-threatening. But, in retrospect, Lovette’s rapid-fire charges look like a lot of red flags waving for attention.
Inmates in the over-capacity Rowan County Detention Center might as well drop their pleas for reduced bond. The state has just seen a vivid example of what can happen when bond is not high enough to keep a dangerous person off the streets. Bad things happen. Bond is not meant to be a punishment; it’s supposed to ensure that the accused will appear in court. But it also buys the accused time until he or she will have to face the consequences of illegal actions.
As county officials weigh the cost of a bigger jail against the impact on the tax rate, they have to factor in public safety. Any alternative to jail that might save money ó bond, electronic house arrest and so on ó raises the risk factor. This is why Sheriff George Wilhelm advocates building a bigger jail rather than finding more ways to let people out. A lot has been said lately about the 250-plus people in Rowan’s jail, which was built for 162. Unspoken is the fact that many more suspects are out on bond already.
The convicted who are placed on probation ó like Lovette and Atwater ó don’t show much gratitude for the second chance. As District Attorney Bill Kenerly recently wrote in the Post, 53 percent of prison admissions in 2005-2006 were the result of probation being revoked ó “i.e., more than half of the people admitted to prison that year were originally given suspended sentences.”
When it comes to jail overcrowding, inmates say the public should blame the courts, not the jail. They’re correct in that the courts are overwhelmed. The local population and the number of crimes committed are growing much faster than the courts. But the inmates should also blame those among their number ó including Laurence Alvin Lovette Jr. ó whose charges may confirm the public’s worst fears. They make life (and awaiting trial) harder for everyone.

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