The Tribune Democrat, Johnstown, PA

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November 24, 2013

Send them packing | State county shipping illegal criminals home

JOHNSTOWN — “Hit the road, Jack, and don’t you come back, no more, no more, no more.”

Those were the lyrics of a song made famous by Ray Charles more than 50 years ago, but they are just as fitting today when it comes to criminals in Cambria County and across the commonwealth.

That’s the message that Cambria County Judge Linda Fleming sent loud and clear to 19-year-old Akeem Rhine earlier this month. Fleming told Rhine, who is originally from Louisiana but apparently moved to Johnstown to be with a woman that he met on the Internet, that he should head south for the winter – and the foreseeable future.

“I want you to go back to your home,” Fleming told Rhine, who was sentenced to nine to 23 months in the Cambria County Prison but was given credit for time served.

Rhine has spent plenty of time at the Cambria County Courthouse – and in the pages of our newspaper – during the past year. He landed, figuratively, in court eight months ago for violating a protection from abuse order. After that hearing he landed, quite literally, on the floor of the courthouse, as he broke free from deputies and jumped over a railing on a stairway. Despite attempts by deputies to hold onto him, Rhine slipped free and landed on the second floor. He then repeated the feat to reach the first floor, but not without injuring himself.

He was taken by ambulance to the hospital after reportedly hurting his head and shoulder, but those injuries didn’t do anything to keep him out of trouble. A month later he was charged with setting fire to a woman’s hair in downtown Johnstown.

Rhine’s attorney, public defender Kenneth Sottile, told the court that Rhine has expressed an interest in going back to his family in Louisiana. There’s only one problem: Cambria County taxpayers have already paid for Rhine to go home once.

We’re glad to hear that Fleming told him we won’t do it again.

“We gave you a bus ticket once,” Fleming said as reported by our Kathy Mellott. “Your family must provide the bus ticket.”

Meanwhile, Pennsylvania has begun deporting some nonviolent offenders who are in this country illegally. CNHI’s John Finnerty reports that the state has sent 158 immigrants back to their home countries in the past year – after a review by the state Board of Probation and Parole – rather than force them to serve out their sentences here. With each inmate costing the state up to $37,000 per year to house, that should save the state $5.5 million per year.

The policy has its detractors – critics contend that those deported will just try to sneak back into the country illegally again – but we support the idea.

Why should we be footing the bill for people here illegally? And, in Rhine’s case, why should he continue to cause problems, clog up our court system and – in the instance of the stairway plunge – put our law-enforcement personnel in danger?

Hit the road Jack, indeed.

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