Is it really punishment with furloughs?

MARIETTA – Weekend jail sentences, punishments postponed for medical reasons, furloughs from jail-all of these special sentencing considerations have shown up in local cases.

Some argue the special considerations are necessary and are sometimes a better means of rehabilitation than a lengthy jail stay. But others question whether these types of sentences adequately punish the offenders.

Washington County Prosecutor Jim Schneider said he is opposed to special sentencing considerations across the board.

He negotiates sentences under the mindset that the offender should serve all of that time consecutively, he said.

“But people want to still be able to do everything life has to offer. They want to visit people in the hospital, or their wife is having a baby, or they want to go to grandma’s funeral,” Schneider said. “However, if they miss the birth of their child or the death of their grandmother, maybe next time they’ll think twice.”

Those types of specially granted absences are called furlough days and while they are requested frequently, it is rare that they are granted, said Washington County Public Defender Ray Smith.

“It used to be decades ago that people got out for Christmas, but now no one gets out for Christmas,” he said.

Furloughs are granted by the sentencing judge, and the instances are uncommon, said Marietta Municipal Court Judge Janet Dyar Welch.

“The last one I can remember was the unexpected death of an immediate family member. I can remember a couple of funerals for immediate family members, but even then it’s not always granted,” she said.

And whether it be furlough days or delayed or intermittent sentences, all are privileges that depend on the specifics of the case and the offender.

“If someone has several priors or has violated bond, they aren’t going to get these privileges. You shouldn’t keep rewarding someone for failure,” said Welch.

Marietta resident Rick Schaad, 31, said he thinks the special considerations should depend on the crime.

“It probably really depends on the offense. Is it something where they just screwed up once, an accident, or is it something more serious,” he said.

Delaying sentences because of pending medical problems has always been a common practice, said Washington County Common Pleas Court Judge Ed Lane.

“When they’re in custody, they can’t qualify for medical insurance and they lose all federal benefits, including Medicare and Medicaid. The jail becomes financially responsible for all their medical bills,” he said.

Recently one Marietta man’s 90-day jail sentence was postponed so he could attend a mid-March consultation appointment about back problems.

Shawn Whittekind, 35, was sentenced in February on a third-degree felony burglary charge by Washington County Common Pleas Court Judge Randall Burnworth; however, Whittekind’s attorney asked that his sentence be postponed so the Washington County Jail would not incur any costs if Whittekind in fact needed back surgery.

He has yet to begin serving his time, according to inmate records from the Washington County Jail.

In a similar instance, the owner of a Reno business caught selling bath salts and other synthetic drugs in 2011 was given a postponed sentence on Feb. 28.

James E. Biles, Jr., 41, was allowed to postpone his 60-day jail sentence on two fifth-degree drug-related felonies until after his scheduled consultation with a doctor following a cancer removal surgery.

Biles began serving his sentence April 3.

Schneider said he can understand the need to delay sentences in these types of situations.

“I understand that when we house prisoners, some of them have extreme medical bills. I’m against the county having to foot those medical bills,” he said.

What has been more frequent lately are intermittent sentences, said Lane.

“Especially since the new sentencing law took effect,” he added, referencing a 2011 law that makes it more difficult to sentence fourth- and fifth-degree felony offenders to prison.

The idea behind intermittent sentences is that they allow the offender to maintain their employment, added Lane.

This month, Lane has allowed two separate felony offenders to serve their jail sentence on weekends after they served their first 30 days consecutively.

“It helps because the court always gives them a financial obligation so they can pay that and usually when people are employed they aren’t committing crimes,” said Smith.

Caldwell resident Patty Batten agreed.

“I think it’s a good idea. You want these people to be able to hold their jobs,” she said.

But Marietta resident Ricardo Solorzano, 36, believes people should serve out their jail sentences consecutively.

“I think you keep them there. If you let them out it just weakens the punishment. They don’t learn the lesson,” he said.

Making someone learn their lesson and helping them with their recovery is the fine line judges tread when making these sentencing decisions, said Lane.

“It’s a balance between what will get their attention, which is the jail time, and what will help with their recovery,” he said.