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Poll results: Involuntary incarceration is a civil rights concern

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In very light voting, the majority clearly rules

By Andrew Harris

If you read this site often, you’ve heard quite a bit about over the last summer about a small town’s growing problem with vagrancy. It isn’t a comfortable conversation to have, nothing like how we address stray dog and cats. We have a fabulous SPCA Serving Allegany County and the Hornell Human Society to help our communities rescue, rehab, and provide “forever homes.” You’ve probably donated to the SPCA in some way or another.

We don’t have a equivalent for humans!! Many years ago we had the “poor house,” or sanitariums for those members of society who suffered from many forms of destitution. In modern times, incarceration was the most common means of dealing with those who do not seek help and are addicted, mentally ill, physically ill, or homeless, or all of the above.

As incarceration is being reconsidered with initiatives like “bail reform” and “rehab,” many who would have been taken into custody are just issued a ticket. The cycle doesn’t get broken, and they are still in withdrawl and very often get arrested again the same day. As Wellsville Mayor Randy Shayler exclaimed recently, “We as a society are failing these people, they are human beings.”

Shayler sites the constant cycle that nearly everyone in Wellsville witnessed in the summers of 2021/2022: Multiple individuals, some resident, some temporary transients, are clearly totally off the deep end. Wandering around in a stupor, openly drinking alcohol, using public and private places as a bathroom, harassing citizens, including minors. This population is also prone to theft, and increasingly brazen shop lifting and grand larceny are common.

The village police have been forced to divert law enforcement efforts into a babysitting duty for people who are suffering from mental illness, even brain damage. One of Wellsville’s most notorious vagrants in recent years has a traumatic brain injury according to family members. Many, including the police themselves, wonder if this is the role of law enforcement or the role of social services?

The police do their duty, arrest and give them a ticket, then release them for a future court appearance which they will likely forget about. This isn’t lost on the unfortunate souls who now fully understand that it takes many arrests to actually see a jail cell. As much as they need help, maybe even tough love, very few people turn themselves into authorities or mental hospitals voluntarily. Help often starts with an abrupt intervention, be it family style or in the back of a cop car.

In urban areas the situation is much worse. New York City Mayor Eric Adams has called for taking people off the streets who clearly are unable to help themselves. Taking homeless vagrants in as mentally ill and not criminally liable with the hope for higher rates of rehabilitation.

The policy, if enacted, could be either a template for the future or an example of a systemically flawed approach. According to Mayor Shayler, the village of Wellsville is ready to explore every possible solution necessary to both provide help to those in need, and maintain law and order in the village.

37% of the vote agree with the notion of involuntary hospitalization, and that can’t be ignored. That argument goes back the SPCA Serving Allegany County and the noticable difference between how we treat companion animals and how we treat a homeless drug addict.

We walk by people sleeping on the streets, many clearly not well, and don’t do anything but maybe hand out a dollar bill. We find a stray puppy in that situation and we at least call the dog control officer. Many of us would personally take the puppy to the local animal shelter, or take the animal home and welcome it into the family.

The essence of this poll comes down to that, should we start treating our fellow man as good was we treat a stray dog ? And if so, what does that look like?

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