Doing time covering crime

Go to jail. Go directly to jail. Do not pass "Go," do not collect $200.
Go to jail. Go directly to jail. Do not pass “Go,” do not collect $200.

A friend and fellow photographer for The Roanoke Times grumbled the other day that the paper has become “The Crime Times” because of all the stories dealing with illegal activity in the Roanoke and New River Valleys.

He has a point.  Much of my work for BH Media, which owns both the Times and The Floyd Press, along with many other newspapers in Virginia and other parts of the country, concerns crime.  Circuit Court runs at least once a week in Floyd County now — up from twice a month not long ago — and took up much of my time on both Monday and Tuesday this week.

An old saying in the criminal justice system says “don’t do the crime if you can’t do the time.” There was a time in the county when doing the crime often meant doing little, if any, time.  Judges usually handed out more suspended sentences than actual time behind bars.  No more. Current Circuit Judge Marc Long believes jail is necessary punishment for those who break the law and prisoners from Floyd County now routinely number more than 100 in Dublin’s New River Valley Regional Jail.

In court this past Monday, a 46-year-old Floyd man admitted he started drinking at 13, smoking grass at 17 and got caught for his first of many crimes at 20.  Judge Long sent him to prison for six years for just his latest probation violation.

The docket for Floyd County reads like an encyclopedia of criminal activity: drug use, drug manufacturing, drug distribution, grand larceny, burglary, malicious wounding, unlawful assault, sexual assault and rape.

Sheriff Shannon Zeman calls the manufacture, sale and use of highly-addictive crystal methamphetamine a “county-wide epidemic.”  Recently, heroin cases have surfaced and are increasing in the county.  According to a study that one law enforcement officer showed us, one of the reasons for the increase in heroin use is that the drug is a good pain killer and is cheaper than prescription drugs like Oxycontin.

When drug use goes up in an area, so do other crimes because drugs cost money and stealing things from homes and cars provides items that can be sold to get funds to feed habits.

Besides drugs, an alarming increase comes from violent crimes involving assaults on friends and family members.  Arguments, it seems, too often can’t be settled unless violent physical acts are involved.

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