Friday, February 25, 2005

A Tale of Money

A Tale of Money

Another big contributing factor to the formation of the PAIR Mental Health Diversion program was the existence of hidden political slush funds and the desire of politicians to keep knowledge of these funds from the general public.

The slush funds are the diversion receipt fund of the Marion County Prosecutor’s Office and the Jail Commissary Fund of the Marion County Sheriff. The Prosecutor at the time was Scott Newman and the Sheriff was Jack Cottey. These funds are at the total discretionary use of the respective politicians and are in the millions of dollars.

The diversion fund is funded by fees from those placed on diversion. Diversion is the process where the prosecutor withholds prosecution for an alleged crime if the accused gets counseling or treatment. It is at the total discretion of the prosecutor and critics have charged that this is a way for the prosecutor to benefit financially by an abuse of his powers. Some have even said that it in effect allows the guilty and innocent to buy their way out of trouble with the law without due process. The money in the funds comes from the fees charged by the prosecutor for this service and amounts in the tens of millions of dollars. This reserve fund is then for use by the prosecutor, but there is a stipulation in the law authorizing this fund states that some of the money must be used for rehabilitation of the offenders. Only a small amount of this money is used for the offenders or for sociological problems brought on by family violence and the mentally ill offender.

Assorted fees and fines fund the Jail Commissary Fund. The primarily source of revenue comes from the jail’s contracts for telephone use by the inmates. This source alone provides a couple of million dollars per year to the commissary fund. The fund is supposed to be used to improve conditions at the jail and provide for rehabilitative services to the inmates. Again the disbursement of the monies is totally at the supervision of the sheriff. In recent years the fund has paid for things like the private jet transportation of the sheriff, luxury SUV’s, baseball card like business cards for the deputies, and costumes for PR events. The abuse of these funds became so bad that it was written about in the media and a state law of passed to force the sheriff to start accounting for the use of the funds. There is no evidence that this law has stopped this abuse of power.

The PAIR Diversion Program was a cooperative program that sought to deal with the problem of the mentally ill offender. All of those involved worked as volunteers from their respective agencies. The program cost no new money. The motivation of most of the agencies involved was to save money. This program was the perfect trophy for the sheriff and prosecutor. It was an honorable program that could be shown to be doing public good. It met the mandates of both the diversion fund and the commissary fund. However, it did not take any money from the prosecutor or the sheriff. Both could get all the glory without spending any money from their slush funds.


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