Last updated: January 27. 2014 1:48PM - 849 Views

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Throwing money at a problem is easy. It provides the appearance of action though solving little. It’s worse if you throw money you don’t have at solutions you don’t need.

The commissioners were wise to reject a property tax to pay for jail and tech school projects. Raising any tax in the poorest county is insane. Though a sales tax is the lesser of two evils, it’s still a tax. Therefore scrutiny is vital before committing to taxation.

As a young photojournalist covering the Water Street jail stories decades ago, the images of the former jail contrast sharply with the current jail. The current jail is certainly overcrowded but conditions are not as deplorable as the conditions it replaced. The current jail doesn’t meet code and it makes sense to expand capacity. But we must not lose sight of the fact that jail overcrowding is only a symptom.

The problem is judicial case overload. Give the district attorney the needed resources and you need less jail capacity. It’s stunning the state doesn’t take into account that Robeson is not only the most violent county when allocating judges and prosecutors, but it has a higher crime severity rate as well.

The backlog of cases is overwhelming. Robeson could reasonably institute night court to catch up. With limited resources the judicial system is forced into plea bargains and other creative methods simply to keep the system moving. Without these efforts two years to trial turns into five or more. An efficient judicial system begins with the judiciary, not the jail.

So sure the jail needs upgrading and no doubt it needs more capacity. But let’s be clear it’s evidence of a deeper problem, not a solution.

Decreasing crime is a solution. Increasing judicial resources is a solution. Expanding jail capacity is only a stopgap.

While education is a long-term solution to jail overcrowding, vocational education is not achieved by physical construction. A facility doesn’t improve education any more than a new jail improves an overcrowded judiciary.

The jail has been bursting at the seams for years with more wanting to get in. Unlike the jail, the Hilly Branch Vocational Center isn’t exactly bursting at the seams nor is there evidence of waiting lists. Sure, it’s a good program and expansion has value. It’s just difficult to justify a new structure when plenty of county schools really are busting at the seams, students are housed in modules and school roofs need repair.

No one will argue against improving the vocational skills of students. That’s not the issue. The operative concept is growth commensurate with need to ensure success without breaking the bank. Prematurely building a multi-million dollar facility for too few students preparing for jobs that don’t yet exist is a solution looking for a problem.

Gov. McCrory wants to put the “Technical” aspect back into community colleges. The school system already has a successful partnership with Early College at Robeson Community College. So it seems logical that another partnership to develop a vocational education equivalent to Early College on the RCC Campus is ripe to help support the governor’s vision. RCC may be accommodating and provide more bang for far less buck. It’s one solution that may grow into a million-dollar facility.

According to the 2013 Local School Finance Study, Robeson ranks at the bottom (99th) out of per capita educational spending ($484.36 per student). Robeson’s ability to pay ranks at the bottom as well. The state average is $1,486 per student but no study has demonstrated a correlation between spending per student and the success of students. The point is Robeson is forced to be efficient.

Education is more than buildings. Good teachers, willing students and strong programs define education.

We can build a jail, but judicial resources must also be provided. Hopefully, a vocational school will one day rise to the same level of urgency. But it is wise to first build demand.

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