During last week’s meeting of the Newport City Council, the body was asked to address the issue of “criminal vagrants” in town.
Kim Gregg, who with her husband Paul, invests in Newport real estate, asked the body to address the issue of “criminal vagrants, not the homeless,” who frequent the downtown of Newport.
Gregg said many of the Newport vagrants are aggressive and she asked that the city post more anti-panhandling signs. While she complimented the police department for its efforts to address the issue, Gregg was critical of the local judicial system which she suggested puts arrestees right back on the street.
“We have an ordinance that addresses this, it is loitering. It spells out vagrant, but they pick them up, put them in jail and they come right out. This is a big issue,” she said.
Cocke County General Sessions Judge Brad Davidson deals with the issue every day and he talked about his procedure for addressing the charge and issuing OR, or “own recognizance,” bonds which free defendants without a posting of bail.
The judge says he reviews the jail population every morning before court convenes because in recent years the facility has been overcrowded and as a result has been decertified.
“I think it is part of my job to keep the jail population low enough so that it can be managed properly,” he says.
The judge added he looks at the charge the defendant is facing and if it is not a charge involving violence or a weapon, and if the jail is crowded,
“I feel I have to give them an OR bond. I’ve been criticized for giving OR bonds.”
Davidson said he finds himself “caught between a rock and a hard place,” because the jail often has a population of 190 to 200 inmates, and it is rated for a capacity of only 86.
He said inmates come to court with black eyes as the result of fights in the jail because of overcrowding, there are no mats, and inmates often have to sleep on the concrete floor.
“I’m human and I don’t want them to do that, so I give a lot of OR bonds.”
Davidson said he is not sure what Gregg was referring to when she addressed the issue of vagrants. He said he hasn’t had a case of aggressive panhandling. But he is strict on methamphetamine and heroin offenses.
“I don’t give them OR bonds, I make them sit. I also have a policy that if a defendant admits they will fail a methamphetamine test, they receive a 45-day sentence. But if a defendant says they will not fail a test for methamphetamine, and then do fail, they receive a 90 day sentence.”
The court also says he has been seeing increased deaths from heroin overdoses, and last week a defendant tested positive for nine drugs, so he was jailed without bond. The defendant complained that he would lose his job but Davidson said, “I don’t care. I want to keep you alive in jail.”