Excessively long prison terms that are way out of proportion to the crime they’re supposed to be punishing have become more and more common in the US. We already know, largely because of this, that even though the US has only 5% of the world’s population, it has 25% of the world’s prisoners. (See previous WCB post here.)
The NY Times Editorial Board recently published this commentary on criminal court sentencing in the US titled ‘Sentenced to a Slow Death.’ The opening sentence of this editorial is, “If this were happening in any other country, Americans would be aghast.”
This situation is well characterized by the so-called “three strikes” laws. Texas was the first state to enact such a law, doing so in 1974 with a mandatory life sentence. In1993; Washington. In 1994; California, Colorado, Connecticut, Indiana, Kansas, Maryland, New Mexico, North Carolina, Virginia, Louisiana, Wisconsin, Tennessee, and Georgia. In 1995; Arkansas, Florida, Montana, Nevada, New Jersey, North Dakota, Pennsylvania, South Carolina, Utah, and Vermont. In 2006; Arizona. In 2012; Massachusetts. And on top of all these are the draconian sex offender laws which can make registered sex offenders out of anyone for the crime of “touching.” See previous WCB post here.
A platform of “tough on crime” has always been a “bread & butter” issue for politicians. They’ve discovered it can help get them elected. This started in the 1980′s, and has been getting progressively more severe as the years roll by. It’s easy for the electorate to shrug this off as “the criminals get what they deserve,” but until you personally, or someone close to you, gets unjustly shredded by this meat grinder we call “justice,” you just can’t comprehend how insane this all is. And this is exacerbated by prosecutors looking for more and more convictions, so they can get re-elected. However, study after study has confirmed that more severe sentencing laws DO NOT correlate with crime deterrence. All they do is fill up the prisons at staggering tax payer expense. Here is just one such study by Dr. Valerie Wright of The Sentencing Project - study by Dr. Valerie Wright. This telling quote from the conclusion of that study: “Existing evidence does not support any significant public safety benefit of the practice of increasing the severity of sentences by imposing longer prison terms.”
The bottom line here, folks, is that the problem is “us.” As long as we keep electing legislators who continue to pass harsh mandatory sentencing laws that allow judges no discretion; and as long as we keep electing prosecutors and judges who disregard logic, fairness, and justice in favor of getting re-elected; we’ll continue to have a justice system that is perfectly willing to also scoop in the innocent to make sure that NO guilty people escape. And while we’re at it, we’ll make sure that all those convicted, whether innocent or guilty, receive the most vengeful punishment we can visit upon them.