Number of inmates sent to prison rises locally

ESCANABA — In 2019, the Delta County criminal justice system saw an increase in prison sentences for felony cases involving drugs.

According to Delta County Prosecutor Brett Gardner, a total of 792 misdemeanor and 651 felony cases were issued in 2019 through his office.

Gardner said from 2017 to 2019, there was a 12 percent increase in misdemeanors and a 30 percent increase in felonies.

When it came to the resolution to those cases, the prison commitment rate in Delta County doubled in 2019 from the previous year.

Felony cases in Delta County Circuit Court that resulted in a conviction in 2016, had a rate of 19 percent prison commitment.

In 2017, there was a 20.9 percent prison commitment rate and there was a 21 percent prison commitment rate in 2018.

“During my full year, we went up to a 41 percent prison commitment rate — we doubled,” Gardner said. Gardner’s first full year prosecuting cases within the Delta County courthouse was 2019.

Delta County’s prison commitment rate not only doubled compared to 2018, but also the state’s average.

According to Gardner, Michigan’s average prison commitment rate is 20 percent.

The increase in the prison commitment rate directly correlates to the increase in drug convictions in Delta County.

“While we’re still trying to figure out the distinction between the drug convictions, we are able to indicate that the majority of those drug cases that resulted in prison were connected with methamphetamine,” Gardner said.

He explained the increase in statistics are a good sign, as it shows the efforts law enforcement officers and the prosecutor’s office are making towards addressing the drug problem in Delta County.

“The team effort is working and as we continue our team efforts, those percentage numbers will start going down,” Gardner said.

When Gardner first took over the position as prosecuting attorney in Delta County in 2018, he spoke with law enforcement, people in the community and the courts.

According to Gardner, the consensus of those discussions indicated the biggest issue plaguing Delta County and other counties in the Upper Peninsula was dangerous drugs — especially meth.

“Methamphetamine was actually on the increase when I walked through the door, and that was law enforcement’s biggest concern and focus,” he said.

The combined effort of local law enforcement and the prosecutor’s office provided the courts in Delta County the tools needed to address the drug problem here.

“While their jobs are different than ours, their commitment to our community and the laws of our state is clear,” Gardner said on Delta County’s judges. “Whether they send convicted drug felons to prison, jail, or place them in drug court, they imposed their sentences in a manner that will protect our community and provide the opportunity for the defendants to rejoin our community clean and sober. Of course, in the end, the defendants will decide their ultimate fate.”

An increase in prison commitment rates for drug dealers and drug users may feel harsh to some.

According to Gardner, who has been involved in law enforcement for almost 32 years, if people think sending drug dealers to prison is harsh then they need to look at the havoc drug dealers create by their attempt to make sure that everybody that grows up has access to drugs.

“That attitude has to change — drug dealers create addicts,” he said.

He explained there has to be severe punishment for those that have earned it and drug treatment for those that deserve it.

There is also the havoc drug users have on the people around them.

According to Gardner, drug users are wrecking havoc to lives of their families, children and neighbors.

Delta County is a great community and law enforcement want to keep it that way, he said.

Gardner added other crimes, like domestic violence and theft, correlate to drug use, as well, and less drug use and abuse in the community creates a safer community.

With the increase in cases and prison commitments for drug dealers and users, Gardner said he does not want to paint a picture that Delta County is rampant with drugs.

“Fortunately law enforcement has always addressed that issue,” he said. “However, now with the stepped up support of the prosecutor’s office we can make it our goal to not just keep a lid on the drug problem but to start to whittle it away.”