Mandatory mayhem

"Mandatory mayhem" Continued...

Issue: "Dating and courtship confusion," June 4, 2011

JF favors expanding drug courts and changing mandatory minimum laws to remove arbitrary disparity and to make sentences fit the crimes. JF also promotes returning discretion to judges to allow them to issue sentences not involving incarceration, such as supervised probation. Prison Fellowship, of course, has long been known for its advocacy of mentoring programs that improve the likelihood of successful re-entry to society.

When Debi Campbell was finally released from prison in January 2010, she flew her youngest daughter, then 23, from California to a drug rehab center in Maryland. They reunited for the first time on Campbell's birthday, March 17. Now 56, Campbell thinks of another daughter in jail in California.

She lives in her Virginia home with her youngest daughter and 5-month-old granddaughter. She says a homeless teenager finishing high school is joining them: "If there was somebody out there who could have done that for my girls, maybe they wouldn't have ended up [in trouble]."

-Catherine Pearson is a journalist living in Missouri

'We overuse prisons'

Chuck Colson and Mike Huckabee on sentencing reform

By Marvin Olasky

I asked Prison Fellowship founder Chuck Colson and former Arkansas Governor Mike Huckabee to offer their views. First, Colson's comments:

When you were in prison during the 1970s, so were 200,000 other Americans. Now the number is 2.3 million. . . . We overuse prisons. We could put many people in community correction systems across the country and hugely reduce the cost of prison, and the amount of people going to prison.

Should possession of an ounce of marijuana be a crime? What's a crime and what's punishable by prison are two different things. The law is a moral teacher, so when the law says, this is wrong, there should be punishment. But for an ounce of marijuana to send someone to prison is a gross overreach-it's preposterous.

What about mandatory minimum sentencing? Mandatory minimum sentences are preposterous. Three-time-loser statutes are an absolute catastrophe: Somebody gets three offenses, the third offense is stealing a pizza, and they get prison for life! You think it's a deterrent to crime: It is not! People are not rational calculators. They act on the basis of emotions, of passions-often drug- and alcohol-induced-so the whole notion that we can deter people by longer prison sentences and tougher prison sentences is fallacious.

Conservatives often say we should build more prisons, but you say that's a big government program. . . . I don't call it conservative. [Modern] Prisons started as a Quaker reform: The idea was that if we put criminals in isolation where they could repent before God, they would be transformed and then come out. It went badly right from the beginning.

Now, Mike Huckabee:

What do you think about mandatory sentencing, "three strikes, you're out" laws, and calls to decriminalize marijuana? I'm not for legalizing marijuana and other drugs-that would not help our culture and society become stronger and better-but we have not been very successful in incarcerating our way out of the drug problem. We've created a bigger problem. Our prisons are teeming with people who don't need to be incarcerated as full-time inmates.

What's the alternative? In Arkansas we created drug courts for nonviolent drug offenders. They gave nonviolent drug offenders an alternative to prison: community service and drug rehab. Drug people need to go to rehab, which costs the state $4 to $5 per day, as opposed to prison, which was close to $50 a day.

What about people convicted three times? The most popular thing you can say in a civic club is, "Three strikes, you're out. By golly, when they commit their third crime, they're going to the slammer for life." That's a great campaign speech. It's really stupid public policy, and let me explain why. First of all, you can't afford it. It is very expensive to incarcerate someone. Second, they really need to understand that behavior has consequences.

Mandatory minimum sentences don't teach that? Tell a person, "You're going to prison. If in the next 10 years you get an education, learn a skill, and behave, you'll serve exactly 10 years. If you're belligerent, you don't go to classes, you spit on the guards, you'll serve exactly 10 years." You'll get the most incorrigible behavior imaginable.

What about those whose behavior makes it necessary for them to stay locked up? When I was governor, my prison director used to say, very astutely, that we lock a lot of people up that we're mad at, rather than the ones we're afraid of. There are people that really need to be locked up, who will hurt people, but not everybody is like that. We lock up a lot of people that we're mad at. We're not fixing them. We're not changing our society.

This is not standard conservative talk. What I've just said to you is what I really believe and what I'd say anywhere. I'm not soft on crime. Crime needs to be punished, but realistically, and justly.

Catherine Pearson
Catherine Pearson


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