The Tribune Democrat, Johnstown, PA

Local News

August 17, 2013

The high cost of crime: Budget dwindles as homicide rate soars

EBENSBURG — Gunshots are fired, a stabbing or beating takes place, and the meter on the cost of fighting, solving and prosecuting crime kicks in.

With 12 pending homicide cases plus three homicide by vehicle cases, the 2013 court-related budget for Cambria County District Attorney Kelly Callihan is depleted.

As of midweek, the DA’s court costs budget of $70,000, which pays for drug testing, expert witness fees and other necessities leading up to trial, was at $81,110, with $30,000 in outstanding bills, said Cambria County Controller Edward Cernic Jr.

“If you get a sequestered jury in one of these cases, those costs will go right through the roof,” Cernic said in an interview at the courthouse.

The DA’s office has an overall budget of $1.7 million, of which

$1.1 million had been expended through the end of the July. The court costs budget is a separate category.

With  4 1/2months remaining in 2013, Callihan wonders what awaits in the fall and early winter.

“You can’t put a price tag on justice,” she said. “Cost can’t ever really be a factor for me, because I want to protect the public.”

Callihan said the number of minor crimes is down slightly.

The most costly and devastating crimes – murders and attempted homicides – are on the rise.

“We average three to five homicides a year. To have this many open cases is definitely taxing our staff and our budget,” she said.

A big chunk of Callihan’s budget was spent early on the January trial of Marquis Neal, 31, and his cousin, Anthony Harvey, 29

They were prosecuted for the late 2011 murder of J-Quan Lewis, 21, of New York City. The trial, Callihan said, cost $26,393.68.

The murders and attempted homicides are taxing budgets at all levels, not just the prosecution’s budget, a worry for Cambria County President Commissioner Douglas Lengenfelder.

“We have to look at the cost of all of this and what it’s going to do to our county,” he said. “It costs on so many levels, the taxpayers, society.”

With revenue at a premium, Lengenfelder fears dealing with the crime costs will force the county to borrow money to pay bills as the end of the year approaches.

From the outset, Callihan and her staff are involved in every serious crime, but are especially involved in homicides and attempted homicides.

“It is really valuable for us to go to the crime scene,” she said.

“Down the road we have to paint the picture of the crime for a jury.”

Early involvement also helps Callihan and her staff get a sense for the victim and provides for police an extra set of eyes and ears.

“We have to tell the jury about the victim; going to the scene helps,” she said.

Every level of peacekeeping is impacted by the homicides, Cernic said.

“It’s the sheriff, the DA, the PD, the prison, our magistrates,” he said.

“It really strains the system in a time when everybody is trying to cut back.”

The $1.9 million budget for Sheriff Bob Kolar’s office is relatively on target, Cernic said of the $1.1 million expended through the end of July.

But Kolar looks for that to change when the pending homicides come to trial.

“The people in the DA’s office are running their butts off. It’s not our turn yet,” Kolar said.

“We’ll get hit on courtroom security and jury security.”

Also on target is the $771,000 budget of public defender Ryan Gleason, whose expenditures total $488,000 as of late July.

But as with the sheriff, that likely will change as the homicides proceed to trial, especially if a large number of the defendants cannot afford to pay for their own defense.

“It kinds of depends on the nature of the homicide, but regardless of the crime there are certain things we need to do,” Gleason said. “We need to obtain experts for trial, and if it ends in some type of a plea, it’s important the court has all the information.”

Cambria County has been lucky in recent years because there have been few death-penalty cases, a situation that produces costs that last for years through the lengthy appeal process, Gleason said.

Also hit is a separate budget item for court-appointed attorneys, those hired by the court to represent clients when there is a conflict in the public defenders office.

Of the $245,000 budgeted, $151,000 has been spent, Cernic said.

Callihan isn’t happy with the mounting pile of homicides and the condition of her budget, but she offers no apology and vows to keep pushing to get and keep criminals off the street.

“Budget-wise, I really try to do my best to contain costs,” she said.

“But when it comes to serious crimes, my role is to make sure the people who commit the crimes are convicted and punished.”

1
Text Only | Photo Reprints
Local News
  • Halfway house inmates can ease back into society

    Prison life can be a time warp.
    When inmates are locked away – for months, years, decades – society moves forward: Technology evolves, major events occur, pop culture changes. From a personal perspective, families and friends live their lives: weddings, funerals, graduations, births, retirements. All the while, criminals bide their time, existing in a regimented world of cement walls and metal bars.
    Almost all of them eventually rejoin society, though.

    April 19, 2014

  • Crime board took aim at house

    Johnstown’s unemployment rate is around 8 percent.
    One-third of the city’s population lives in poverty.
    Burglaries and assaults significantly increased between 2010 and 2012. There is a thriving illegal trade in heroin and prescription drugs.
    Given those conditions, it can be challenging for Johnstown Community Corrections Center residents to find jobs when living in the facility or to avoid falling back into a criminal lifestyle upon their release.

    April 19, 2014

  • Homicides linked to center

    Three homicides that took place in Johnstown last year involved either a suspect or victim who previously resided in the Community Corrections Center.
    Police Chief Craig Foust confirmed the name of one victim, who spent almost two months in the facility on Washington Street during 2007, a time period verified by the Pennsylvania Department of Corrections.

    April 19, 2014

  • bachota Volunteers helping to spruce up community

    Walls and ceilings inside the Cambria County Library look clean and bright with fresh new coats of paint on them.
    The work was recently done by inmates from the Johnstown Community Corrections Center.

    April 19, 2014 2 Photos

  • alanna Hartzok targets income disparity

    Alanna Hartzok described herself as being a conservative progressive.
    The Franklin County resident said she is in favor of conserving environmental resources, education opportunities, Social Security and Medicare, while wanting to progressively address wealth inequality, health care and taxation.

    April 19, 2014 1 Photo

  • Schools rise to leadership challenge

    Forest Hills and Cambria Heights high school students put the spirit of healthy competition toward a good cause and picked up some lessons in leadership along the way.

    April 19, 2014

  • KATEY LADIKA Student’s photos win awards

    A Forest Hills High School junior has captured several awards in a high school arts and writing contest that has identified greats such as Truman Capote and Andy Warhol.

    April 19, 2014 1 Photo

  • Jim Siehl JIM SIEHL | Music to my ears

    Seldom has $15 produced such a high level of entertainment as it did a few weeks ago when I found myself in the second row just left of center keeping back the tears once again during my third live performance of “Les Miserables.”

    April 19, 2014 1 Photo

  • Michele Bender Bye, bye, Easter birdies

    Animals fascinated my mom. Riding the train between Johnstown and Philly, she saw horses, pigs, sheep, cows … a Mattel See ’n Say of farm critters.

    April 19, 2014 1 Photo

  • Bill Eggert Columnist Photo Travelogue of terror features Johnstown area

    A historic week will surround the venerable Silver Drive-In come the beginning of May.

    April 19, 2014 2 Photos

Poll

Would you like to see the Johnstown Community Corrections Center remain open after its lease runs out on Oct. 11, 2015?

Yes
No
I'm not sure
     View Results
House Ads