GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. – Those who work in law enforcement say a majority of the crimes in West Michigan are being committed by a small amount of the population.
The result is a seemingly revolving door at the jails in West Michigan.
For months, FOX 17 has been talking with victims, judges, prosecutors and criminal psychologists to see what if anything can be done differently to break the cycle of repeat criminals.
In the judicial system, the repeat criminals are known as habitual offenders. On the street, criminal psychologists said the number of arrests one criminal has is like wearing a badge of honor.
Professionals say that makes it difficult to help a criminal that doesn’t want to reform, and equally hard to explain that to a victim of the crime.
On the night of August 1st, 2013 John Kovall and his family were inside his Grand Rapids home when the security system was triggered.
“The sensors started going off and all of the sudden I ran outside with a flashlight,” said Kovall.
Outside, Kovall said he saw a man crouched down beside his truck in the driveway.
“When he started charging me, it was like protect mode and so I did what I had to do,” he said.
The two struggled on the driveway, eventually Kovall said he’s able to pin the man down. At that point Kovall said he realized the man was armed with a 4 inch blade.
“I was fighting for my life,” he said. “I don’t know what I would have done if he would have gotten up.”
Kovall said he held down 50-year-old Randy Jordan until police arrived. Jordan was arrested for assault, possessing burglary tools, and stealing from vehicles.
He was booked in the Kent County Jail a place he first visited as an inmate in 1986 for burglary.
“Now I understand why police officers get upset,” Kovall said. “They see the same person over and over and over and they do all this hard work to catch all these guys and it’s the court system that is failing. Everyone blames the police but it’s the court system that is failing.”
According to online records, Jordan has been arrested and convicted 19 times in Michigan.
“The average jail inmate is on his 19th stay in the county jail,” said Kent County Judge Donald Johnston. “If that is the average that means there are a whole lot of people have been there more than 19 times.”
Being a habitual offender carries a punishment all its own.
“That increases the maximum sentence by 50 percent,” said Judge Johnston. “So if they commit a ten year crime and they are charged as a second offender, that becomes a 15 year crime.”
What happens in some cases, such as with Randy Jordan, is criminals accept a plea deal. Some charges stick, others are dropped.
For Jordan, court records show a guilty plea occurred in 15 of the 19 times he was arrested. He was found guilty in the four other cases.
The plea deal is a trend both judges and the county prosecutor are familiar with.
D.J. Hilson, the Muskegon County Prosecutor said, “I think if you ask those folks they will tell you, “I can’t get a job, or I can’t do anything but this. Certainly I think there is an effort to break down that barrier.”
Prosecutors like Hilson said the problem is trying to help people that don’t want to be helped.
“In their hearts they have to want to do that,” he said. “Until they make that choice they might continue to come back into the system.”
For 20 years, Dr. Jeff Kieliszewski has studied the criminal mind as a forensic pscyhologist working to figure out why convicts chose to live a life of crime.
In that time, he’s noticed trends when it comes to repeat offenders, “70 percent of prison inmates meet the criteria for an antisocial personality disorder,” he said.
In more cases than not, Dr. Kieliszewski said the criminals attempt to justify their behavior.
In his work inside prisons he would hear excuses like, “I stole the car because I needed a ride,” he said.
Or the criminal would think what they are doing is normal, “I stole that purse because she didn’t protect it adequately,” he said as another example.
And soon, the outcome of punishment becomes normal as well, “The typical habitual offender has sort of gotten used to going to jail repeatedly or going to prison so it becomes part of their identity,” he said.
The psychologist said often the bad habits of criminals form early in life, making it hard to reverse. He said the professionals working in prison are sometimes misused.
“There is a lot of work to do and a lot of work in my experience wasn’t really focused on trying to help rehabilitate individuals with personality disorders it was more dealing with the mentally ill inmates and meeting policy mandates that had to occur in that job,” he said.
So the cycle then continues and it’s often the victims of the crimes left wondering where the system broke down.
“I shouldn’t have to worry like that,” said Kovall. “No one should.”
Jordan entered a guilty plea to possession of burglary tools, and stealing from a vehicle in October. The assault charge was dropped and he was not charged as a habitual offender.
In fact, Russ Marlon with the Michigan Department of Corrections said it’s nearly impossible to get an accurate number on the amount of habitual offenders currently incarcerated because of plea deals.
Marlon said over 90% of the people that come to prison do so on a plea deal, and 80% of the plea deals are done with the condition that the charge of being a habitual offender be dropped from the record.
What is clear is the cost of incarceration. According to Michigan.gov the average daily cost to keep a person in prison is $94.00. That money comes at the expense of the taxpayer.
That dollar amount takes into consideration salaries, benefits, health care, prisoner food, offender education, programming, transportation and utilities.
In the 19 times Randy Jordan was arrested he was only sentenced with being a habitual offender one time.
Even if you are not a victim of Jordan directly, Michigan taxpayers are paying for his and other habitual offenders mistakes.