Some Utah families decide they want inmates home for the holidays
Over the years, Gary Walton has had more than one father sit in his office with tears running down his face.
"[They] start thinking about the empty place setting or the spot around the Christmas tree," said Walton, office manager for Beehive Bail Bonds and a 34-year veteran of the business.
The rest of the year, parents might be content to leave their child behind bars, but not during the holiday season.
The biggest days for softening of hearts? The day before Thanksgiving and Dec. 23 and Dec. 24.
"There's a strong emotional attachment to get their kids [out] that they've done a little tough love on," Walton said. "Sometimes those are decisions made with the heart [rather] than the brain. There's some [inmates], unfortunately, that are better off, a lot safer for themselves and the community, in lock-up."
Walton said the Christmas cases stand out because of the length of time the individual has already spent behind bars.
"If they can make bail, they go. It doesn't really matter if it's the holidays or not," said Capt. Richard Church, over the Salt Lake County Jail's processing division.
"We, of course, see a lot of people who [haven't bailed out who] would like to go. [When they can't], they just kind of settle down and get through the holidays," he said.
But some inmates, who have burned most bridges any other time of the year, find a definite softening in attitude by their families.
Wayne Carlos, owner of AAA Bail bonds and an officer in the state bail bonds association, said each year there's what he terms "the Christmas atmosphere."
"They don't want their loved one in jail," he said.
As he was speaking to The Salt Lake Tribune, he was processing such a case.
"We want him out by Christmas," the family told him.
"People would want their loved ones at home during that period of time where other family members are visiting," Carlos said.
But whether that's the best decision is another story.
Some of them end up back in jail, Walton said.
Church said during the holiday season, the number of "family units" arrested and booked into the jail goes up.
"You'll see more brothers and cousins coming from a family fight," he said.
Salt Lake County District Attorney Sim Gill said there's certainly an emotional component during the holiday season, and it comes up during bail hearings.
"It becomes an argument that's available to defense counsel," he said. "He'd really like to be home for the holidays. You see those arguments more during the holidays."
Gill said that in some cases that argument is a tough sell for judges and prosecutors, but "everybody's human."
"For those real close cases, does the good will bounce their way? In some cases it does," he said.
Utah courts spokeswoman Nancy Volmer said, anecdotally, Utah judges don't see much different behavior this time of year.
"[Suspects] always want to get out [regardless] of the season; they implore [with] a little more intensity during the holidays," she said.
Before 2000, some jail inmates could count on the "Christmas kickout." County jail inmates who had served most of their minor sentences would get an early Christmas present from the Utah courts an earlier than expected release date that would often arrive the day before Christmas.
But that amnesty program vanished "quite awhile in the past," Church said.
"Even then it wasn't a huge number," Church said. "It was a couple of handfuls at most."
Everyone else remaining behind bars is monitored closely because depression and attempted suicide cases typically rise this time of year, Church said.