By Carol Stiffler
Jail isn’t a perfect punishment for every crime. And jail is never just jail – it has lasting repercussions.
That’s what 92nd District Court Judge Beth Gibson believes. She understands that sometimes there is no alternative to jail time. But other offenders, like those struggling with substance abuse, are better off at home on a tether and assigned to sobriety court.
Gibson recently obtained a $29,000 grant from federal COVID funds to increase the use of tether sentences for offenders who meet the right criteria.
“Sometimes jail is the only option we have,” Gibson said. “Some can’t afford to go on tether because they can’t pay for the tether,” she said. “The grant helps with that.”
Placing an offender on a tether is cheaper than keeping them in jail, in technical terms, but Gibson also takes into consideration the societal costs from a stay in jail.
There’s often a resulting job loss. A disruption in the family status. An end to income or financial support.
“There are intangible costs that are more important,” Gibson said.
Letting eligible offenders serve their time on a tether also lowers the county’s jail expenses, offering relief to a tight budget.
There are multiple kinds of tethers – GPS tethers for people who aren’t allowed to leave home; tethers that sense substance abuse violations, tethers that are used for routine sobriety checks, and basic tethers that allow a person to be located if necessary.
Attending sobriety court is another component. Sobriety court meets once a week, and every other week requires a drive to St. Ignace or Sault Ste. Marie to attend in person. If someone wants to change, completing sobriety court and receiving those outpatient services can have a very beneficial outcome, Gibson said.
“We’ve had a baby born, we’ve had a high school graduate,” Gibson said. “One young man now has a welding degree. Two people from St. Ignace now have lined up employment.”
One man in the area is now at the point where sobriety court is his last hope. “This is about the only thing that can help him,” Gibson said. “I hope we can, because he wants it.”