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Board urged to make justice system changes


Special to The Press

During the Lehigh County commissioners’ Sept. 9 meeting, Dr. Hasshan Batts, with Promise Neighborhoods of the Lehigh Valley, urged the board to keep focus on public safety by being cognizant of the need for violence prevention, working to reduce recidivism or released convicts being arrested again for other charges and jailed again.

Criminal defense attorney Ettore “Ed” Angelo spoke after Batts and continued the plea for change in Lehigh County’s justice system.

He complained of problematic visitation rules and what he called “de facto solitary confinement” in the county jail.

“These are somebody’s children,” Angelo said, as he called for compassion as county commissioners consider the upcoming budget.

A major concern for Angelo was the public defender’s office is underfunded compared to the office of the district attorney.

Allison Mickel also called for commissioners to “align your values with your supporters” when they consider the budget.

Mickel claimed Pennsylvania has the highest incarceration rate in the United States.

PrisonPolicy.org lists Pennsylvania as having the 22nd highest incarceration rate. Oklahoma has the highest incarceration rate and Hawaii has the lowest incarceration rate, according to the website.

Alan Jennings, executive director of the Community Action Committee Lehigh Valley, called on the commissioners to not “leave people behind” to “not turn our backs on despair.”

“We have got to watch out for people in their time of distress,” Commissioner Nathan Brown said. The state has closed a lot of the mental health [facilities] and now we have correction officers who are supposed to one job, who are now trying to figure out what’s wrong with a person.

“The state needs to pony up. It needs to come to the table, look at our mental health issue and not give it to our jails.”

“I know the recidivism rate is terrible,” Commissioner Dr. Percy Dougherty said.

“Something is wrong.” He recommended more training programs for inmates.

He said if the warden for the jail needs more money, she should ask for it.

He also told the people supporting budget realignment the commissioners “can’t tell the district attorney or the president judge how to run their operations.

“We can only work with them and try to have them change their budget.”