by Amelia Holliday—Staff Reporter
If the nation thinks coal is becoming the scarcest resource in Eastern Kentucky, then someone should really tell those in Perry County who seem to think copper will disappear tomorrow.
In the last five years the instances of copper wire thefts in the region have consistently risen. According to Wright’s Recycling in Hazard, a person can receive as much as $2.40 per pound for copper. And although acquiring copper is not only illegal in many cases but also life threatening, this has not seemed to stem the flow of incoming copper theft cases to the Perry County Circuit Court.
Circuit Judge William Engle may have stumbled upon a way to impact those prosecuted for copper theft in order to keep them from being repeat offenders as well as directly pay back the communities they impact.
“If particular parts of the county are affected by an act someone’s pled guilty to, whether it be theft or mischief or whatever, then you could order community service in that particular part of the county,” Engle said.
Many times, when copper wire is stolen in a community it can cause communitywide power, Internet, or cable outages. Engle said the idea to offer community service as a way for perpetrators to repay communities they have impacted came to him only a week ago.
Commonwealth’s Attorney John Hansen said after a case concerning copper theft came in front of the court last week, Engle decided that 350 hours of community service for the defendant, who pleaded guilty, would better serve both the community and the defendant than just the usual restitution fees paid only to the company the wire was stolen from.
“I think this is probably what we’re going to start doing with folks who are doing this; it’s what we’re going to start recommending,” Hansen said. “All they have to do usually is pay restitution. We offer guilty pleas, they pay restitution fees, and we put them on probation.”
Engle said while each individual case is different and some would benefit from imprisonment, he thinks adding community service in copper theft cases would make more of an impact on the perpetrator. Doing community service, he said, would be almost like paying restitution for something taken away from a community that has no easily quantifiable value.
“It wouldn’t be as much a penalty as much as holding someone accountable,” he said. “The goal is to try to, if anybody’s had a loss to make them whole and to try to prevent or formulate a remedy to where that you cut down the propensity of somebody to commit a crime again.”
Hansen said he was in full agreement with Engle, and was surprised this had not been considered before for these cases.
“I think it’s a very good idea to push this on, that way when people in those areas see that person doing restitution that way they’ll know that’s the guy who screwed their things up,” Hansen said.
Engle said this idea of giving back to the community as a kind of rehabilitation for the perpetrators has been tried and found effective in the Perry County Drug Court where participants walk for the March of Dimes and help with Perry County PRIDE cleanups.
“Do they like getting up and meeting behind this building (the courthouse) at 7:30 or 8 o’clock on Saturday morning to drive to Buckhorn? No, but it is holding them accountable, it’s helping the community, and it’s really a constructive rather than a merely punitive exercise.”