Sentenced to a Slow Death – Only in America?

Wrongful Conviction

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.

4 responses to “Sentenced to a Slow Death – Only in America?

  1. Mr. Locke, Excellent piece!

  2. Sex Offenders Locked Up on a Hunch – The New York Times Editorial 8/15/15
    http://nyti.ms/1NCJeQR
    “The essence of the American criminal justice system is reactive, not predictive: You are punished for the crime you committed. You can’t be punished simply because you might commit one someday. You certainly can’t be held indefinitely to prevent that possibility.
    And yet that is exactly what is happening to about 5,000 people convicted of sex crimes around the country. This population, which nearly doubled in the last decade, has completed prison sentences but remains held in what is deceptively called civil commitment — the practice of keeping someone locked up in an institution for months, years or even decades for the purpose of preventing possible future offenses.

    The authorities have the power to detain people with mental illnesses or disorders who cannot function independently, or who pose a danger to themselves or others. But since the early 1990s, this power has been used increasingly to imprison one distinct group: sex offenders.

    Federal law and the laws in 20 states and the District of Columbia allow people convicted of violent sex crimes — such as rape or child molestation — to be held in custody indefinitely past the end of their criminal sentences. The Supreme Court has upheld these laws on the grounds that they are not intended to punish or deter crime, but only to hold people until they are no longer a threat. In theory, a civilly committed person gets treatment and is released as soon as possible.”

    Comment by Rodney Roberts: “My name is Rodney Roberts and I was wrongfully convicted and exonerated via Dna evidence in 2014 after serving 17 years imprisoned for a sexual assault…I served 7 years in state prison and 10 years civilly committed in a sex offender facility in New Jersey…despite my innocence..due to the nature of the offense I was held wrongfully in civil confinement with rapist and child.molesters..and one of the tools the state attorney general uses is a chart that estimates that certain offenders will commit a future crime with a period of time if released..no new evidence or new crime..just a chart to predict the future..I agree that treatment is the best approach in such a serious issue regarding sexually related offense..there is no real cure for the mental illness of pedophilia..but treatment helps..ironically civil commitment is a lifetime term until a mental health professional signs off on their release but in my case..because I wouldn’t say I was guilty of the sex offense I was deemed untreatable and remained confined civilly for 10 years until Dna exonerated me…the system is flawed that an innocent man can be civilly committed and labeled a sex offender..if the have methods to predict the future.. I can think of millions of disasters that could have been avoided.”
    August 18 at 6:23pm

  3. Minnesota’s egregious sex offender confinement statute held unconstitutional by David Post | The Washington Post June 2015 http://wapo.st/1hB2LFj

    “Minnesota’s Civil Commitment and Treatment Act provides for “psychological screening” of persons convicted and sentenced for certain “high risk” sexual offenses , prior to their release from prison. Upon a finding that the individual was either a “sexually dangerous person” [defined as someone who “is dangerous to other persons” because of “a habitual course of misconduct in sexual matters”], or a “sexual psychopathic personality” [“manifesting a sexual, personality, or other mental disorder or dysfunction, and, as a result, likely to engage in acts of harmful sexual conduct”], they would be ordered into a civil confinement facility run by the Minnesota Sex Offender Program — a combination mental hospital and prison. Almost 1000 individuals over the last 20 years have been involuntarily committed to the MSOP facility under this program, and not one has ever been discharged – in effect, indefinite and lifetime detention.

    It’s an appalling piece of legislative malfeasance, and Minnesotans should be ashamed of themselves for having enacted it into law. The individuals subject to indefinite and lifetime confinement under this statute are, please notice, people who have already served the prison sentences duly and lawfully imposed on them for their crimes. The Minnesota program is part of a particularly nasty and mean-spirited campaign in our various state legislatures to pile disabilities upon disabilities onto those convicted of sex offenses, a category of people that is probably the most widely-reviled in our society today; “Let’s see how much more miserable we can make their lives after they have done their prison time” seems to be the movement’s governing credo.”

  4. Lifetime detention? “Almost 1000 individuals over the last 20 years have been involuntarily committed to the MSOP facility under this program, and not one has ever been discharged – in effect, indefinite and lifetime detention.”

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