Sunday, June 23, 2013

Sentencing Laws Still Lacking

Sentencing Laws Still Lacking
Commentary by Sanford D. Horn
June 23, 2013

For Shamus Patton freedom after three years of an eight year sentence is as criminal as he is. To serve less than 40 percent of a prison term is more than “disturbing” as indicated by the June 21, page one headline, “Felon’s Case ‘Disturbing’” (The Indianapolis Star).

The new law passed during the past legislative session is marginally better, but still miles from where it ought to be. The General Assembly enacted a law requiring convicts to serve a minimum of 75 percent of their sentence, even with good behavior and completion of certain programs.

Patton was sentenced to eight years for shooting nine people at the Indiana Black Expo in 2010. Fast forward three years, and Patton is on the streets having a reduced sentence for good behavior and competing an educational program. Apparently Patton learned nothing, arrested for resisting police, while in the company of three other convicts and firearms.

So many aspects of the Patton case and new law are pathetically wrong, endangering the community at-large, from a lack of communication between prison and local authorities, to the dumb luck that Patton should return to his miscreant cohorts for additional illicit activity – evidencing his need to remain behind bars.

The focus must be on sentencing laws. Patton is merely a symptom of the need to tighten them. An eight year sentence should be just that – eight years behind bars. With good behavior and completion of certain programs, a prisoner could be released in eight years. With bad behavior and non-compliance, the sentence should be increased.

“I think serving 75 percent of a sentence, rather than just 50 percent should still be enough of an incentive for prisoners to follow the rules,” said Rep. Matt Pierce (D-Bloomington).

Pierce and others supporting this bill, now law, don’t understand – this is not about the incentives for convicts to behave behind bars, but the enforcement of a sentence handed down by a judge and jury. It should start with 100 percent and the incentive for prisoners to follow the rules is that every act of bad behavior or defiance is tacked on to the sentence on a 2:1 ratio – two additional days per incident.

Criminals should not be rewarded with early release. While they are entitled to justice under the law, it should not be by heaping insult to injury upon the victims.

Sanford D. Horn is a writer and educator living in Westfield, IN.

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