THE DOWNSIDE OF HARSH SENTENCING

 

I applaud reality star, Kim Kardashian for embarking on a mission convincing President Trump to commute a woman’s prison sentence who had been serving mandatory life plus 25 years, for her role in a Tennessee drug ring. Alice Johnson, age 63, is a mother of five who admitted her crimes for which she was sentenced by a federal judge in 1996.

     Mrs. Johnson had petitioned President Obama for clemency in 2014, but was denied. Hers was a significant drug crime, but also a first offence. During her prison time, she was considered a model inmate.

     While president, Barack Obama issued nearly two thousand clemency orders for inmates serving non-violent offenses. I was no fan of President Obama, but I do think he was right to address the issue of harsh and mandatory sentences for non-violent crimes.

     Mrs. Johnson certainly deserved prison time. But relegating a human being to life without a chance of parole, except in the most egregious of crimes, is barbaric. If Mrs. Johnson, and others like her, remained in prison until age 90 or 100, costs to the taxpayer would be enormous.

     Elderly people in prison is becoming the norm, not the exception. According to Wikipedia sources, prison populations are rapidly aging. While the prison population grew by 8 percent from 2000 to 2005, the over-55 population grew by 33 percent. According to the Bureau of Justice, in 1993 only 3.1 percent of inmates were over age 55.  In 2013 that had risen to 9.9 percent. Overall prison inmate population stands at roughly 2.2 million. Assembled, it could rank as the 35th largest state in the union

     The overall budget costs for operating federal and state prisons, according to Wikipedia sources, is $80 billion a year. A 2017 report by Forbes cites $100 billion a year as taxpayers cost to fund police departments. This doesn’t include federal agencies, nor judges, prosecutors and parole/probation systems. As we see, the overall costs for running the criminal justice systems in America are surpassed only by the $717 billion expended for the U.S. Military.

     Most of these criminal justice increases can be attributed to mandatory sentencing passed through legislation, forcing judges into rigid sentencing compliance with no discretion. Mandatory-minimums are used by prosecutors in negotiating plea deals, thus clearing the dockets while keeping up with caseloads, much like Lucille Ball keeping up with the runaway conveyor belt. Three-strike laws also call for life sentences in 28 states, including Florida, once someone has committed a third felony.

     I’m no bleeding heart. I put hundreds of felons in jail during my 30 years on the job, some of whom would never see freedom again. I’ve seen the worst of the worst. But I also know that politicians consider being labeled “soft on crime” is a death knell during a candidacy. That leads to unreasonable or insensible laws that keep too many people in jail for too long, unnecessarily.

     Whatever happened to emphasis on rehabilitation?

     I’ve been there when we cops and prosecutors high-fived a successful case closure when a criminal went to jail. We forget that every time we put someone in prison, with rare exceptions, they will be coming out the other end one day. Then what do we have? That quite often results in an inability to work, function or socialize, because extreme long term incarceration changes people.

     In 1971, I arrested a serial rapist who went on a rampage two months after being released from a long prison term. He could not adjust to free life. While committing rapes, he showed victims his tattoos, scars and other markings. He wanted to be caught. He wanted to go “home.”

     Drug crimes are dastardly, to be sure. But locking up human beings for the entire lifetime is equally as dastardly. Surely, we can do better.

     President Trump did a good thing. Alice Johnson paid her debt to society. So have many others like her.

11 Responses to THE DOWNSIDE OF HARSH SENTENCING

  1. Charles Pierce October 2, 2018 at 3:53 pm #

    I like you do not like mandatory minimums when people are sentenced for crimes. But alas we have judges who are sometime nit wit and give an individual 6 month for the rape of a drunk women, mainly because he has a good future and the jail time would harm his ability. I can remember in the 1960’s and the 1970’s a number of judges began to give out what were very ignorant sentences for crime that were committed. We therefore got the Mandatory minimums. What is the happy medium, how do we punish for the crime uniformly with out totally destroying the lives of the individual and their families.

  2. Helen Bennett October 2, 2018 at 4:43 pm #

    We do not need “uniform” sentences nor mandatory minimums. Old people should not languish in prison. That’s why Bill Cosby was given a light sentence, so he can get out someday. I agree with you, Marshall.

  3. Charlie Greene October 2, 2018 at 4:56 pm #

    Good point Marshall. Nobody knows more about the system than you.

  4. Ron Fischer October 2, 2018 at 5:51 pm #

    Many of the harshest prison systems in the world have little to nothing when it comes to reducing crimes. To be effective, North Korea introduced brainwashing inmates and from most accounts they were very successful in reducing repeat offenders.

    So, maybe the success key to our criminal justice system lies in “managing the minds” of inmates and reducing the length of sentences.. Re-educating and mandatory inmate success with behavior issues should be playing a role in sentencing issues.

    Being an “inmate” is a process that automatically requires adapting a totally new lifestyle. It would be better to make the lifestyle of peach, community, negotiation, and civility key components for sentencing and release propositions.

    Career criminals all share the same lifestyle models especially when they are introduced to the prison culture. “Hope” does make a difference in attitude.

  5. Gerald A Rudoff October 2, 2018 at 5:53 pm #

    Allow me to present another point and different side to our criminal justice system and in particular our juvenile justice system both of which are in dire need of reform. Minimum mandatory sentencing as well as other types of sentencing guidelines were put in place to PUNISH not REHABILITATE those who continue to seriously violate our criminal laws. Our prison populations will continue to grow until such time that society decides that it is less expensive to rehabilitate than it is to punish in particular as pertains to the juvenile offender and puts money and programs into place to ensure through rigorous data collection that the programs are working and the offenders are not re-offending…

  6. Cliff October 2, 2018 at 7:49 pm #

    Marsh: Totally agree!

  7. marv October 3, 2018 at 1:56 pm #

    Good call Jerry.

  8. clearstory October 4, 2018 at 8:12 am #

    I agree with Mr. Frank.

  9. Bob James October 4, 2018 at 3:18 pm #

    Sheriff Joe Arpaio of Maricopa County, AZ has always been ahead of the curve when it comes to applying effective harsh treatment to prisoners. Sheriff Joe believes that making law breakers stay in prison a miserable experience as possible is the most effective way to rehabilitate a bad guy. If the bad guy is capable of being rehabilitated, he will do it himself rather than go back to prison again. If we are dealing with a career criminal, it is a moot point. No matter what you do, you are not going to rehabilitate a career criminal. Lock him up and make sure he serves every minute of his time in the most miserable environment possible. Maybe he will leave when he gets out and move to a more crime-tolerant country.

    Too many prisons today have an almost country club atmosphere. Life is too easy, Prisons have become a perfect place for the neer-do-well to get free room and board, medical care, etc. while paying his debt to society. Prison is not the most desirable outcome for getting caught in a crime, still it may be better than going back to where ever they came from.

  10. reality October 11, 2018 at 2:40 pm #

    The State of FL spends $2.4 Billion a year to incarcerate more than 101,000 inmates at nearly 150 facilities.

    The Stuart news often names someone arrested for possessing over 20 grams of marijuana. Do they go to jail, if no bail is posted? Do they then have a felony on their
    record? In FL, does that mean their driver’s license is suspended? Then if they drive to
    work and are stopped for a suspended license, do they go to jail? Please answer these questions, Marshall. Meanwhile, Wall Street is lining up to figure out ways to profit from
    the growing and selling of marijuana. And for those worried about FL agriculture, and waterway pollution, is marijuana a crop that doesn’t need much water, that holds soil,
    and is profitable? Luis Rukyerser once said that the state of Indiana used to be the biggest producer of marijuana. George Washington and Thomas Jefferson both grew Hemp. Even that is still against the law in the U.S? Thank you Marshall. I hope you continue in good health for a long time.

  11. Jan Siren October 23, 2018 at 10:01 am #

    My overnight in a drunk tank for “rioting” (case dismissed the next morning, for me and dozens of others rounded up like me for a non-violent protest march) was sleepless, because the next drunk tank down the corridor held a guy who kept screaming “YOU’RE GONNA DIE!” and never let up. Lesson learned: “justice” is not always “just.”

    Bob, experience a night in the slammer once, then see if you keep the same views.

    Jan Siren