Illogical, unjust sentencing a blight on America

One glaring example of the dysfunction so prevalent in the system today, and a dramatic reminder that “justice” no longer is a part of our criminal justice system, is the wild, unreasonable, and plainly nonsensical great disparity in criminal sentences. Perhaps this injustice is greatest in pornography cases, though it exists with all crimes. Even the government sees the problem: The U.S. Sentencing Commission says the advent of the Internet has led to broad sentencing disparities in child pornography cases, and that the existing penalty structure needs to be changed, including “mandatory minimum” sentences. In a study for Congress, the commission said that federal law-enforcement agencies handle nearly 2,000 child pornography prosecutions annually, up from 700 a decade ago. (State prosecutors handle many thousands more!) It attributed that increase largely to pornographers exploiting the Internet. Average federal prison sentences for defendants convicted of child pornography offenses have almost doubled in the past decade to five years for possession of pornography and 11 years for distribution. Some sentences are unduly harsh, others unduly lenient, in a big way. The report says the current sentencing scheme fails to distinguish adequately among offenders based on how dangerous they are, and is overly severe in some cases. An edition of The (Wilmington) News Journal featured a story quoting the governor of Delaware and others as saying how prisons should be used for those who pose a risk to the community, and this should be done by using tools to identify their potential risk. Yet I know a man who, in 2012 was sentenced to 12 years in prison for looking at pictures on the computer. Twelve years in prison! But for this aberration, which he deeply regrets, he was, by all accounts, a “model citizen” in every respect. He had no prior criminal record. Before his sentencing, he requested, of his own volition, the “ABEL” test. This is the test relied upon by the state to evaluate the likelihood that sex offenders will offend again: a “high risk” evaluation portends a harsh sentence or denial of parole; a “low risk” evaluation usually means a light sentence or even probation. This man’s evaluation was “low risk” in every category; the report concluded: “X presents NO RISK (emphasis added) within the community.” This man got hammered with 12 years! The above-referenced report mentions similar illogical injustices. This is not justice. Some of the problem is caused by lax discipline of atrociously incompetent lawyers; this man’s lawyer never requested a pre-sentence investigation (report), nor did he mention this test result to the judge. Unbelievable! The courts keep no records of sentences imposed on such defendants, so, they go on blindly with hugely disparate sentencing. Our system is wildly overloaded by our insane failed policy called “The War on Drugs.” Every day in the newspapers, we see several notices of drug charges, yet, drugs are as available as ever. Countless studies show that these cases accomplish nothing in removing the threat of drugs, but they clog the system to the point of disaster. The judges do not have the time to consider, as they should — and as they used to — the prior record, background, character and attitude of the each defendant before they ship them off to already-crowded prisons. There is a better way to deal with drugs (truly a poison to be controlled): Take a tiny fraction of what we are now wasting on the futile “War on Drugs,” put it into such advertising, and watch addiction rates and crime statistics plummet! Google “” It works. Bring it, an improved version dealing with all very-dangerous drugs, to your state. This one measure alone would eliminate incredible congestion in our courts, which is one main cause of so many problems, including a vast number of illogical and unjust sentences.

Mina Lofland Clayton

crime, courts
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