Zippidy Doo Da

I'm not stupid, I'm from Texas!

Monday, November 09, 2009

Crime and Punishment

The Supreme Court heard arguments today challenging the right of states to sentence juveniles to life in prison. The court ruled in 2005 that is “cruel and unusual punishment” to sentence juveniles to death. The cases before the court today both come from Florida, which has over seventy inmates serving life terms for non-homicide crimes committed as juveniles.

Sullivan v. Florida seeks parole for Joe Sullivan, who was convicted twenty years ago for raping a seventy-two-year-old woman. He was convicted on testimony provided by two older accomplices, who then received lesser sentences. His lawyer, who filed no appeals in the case, was later disbarred.

Florida is a draconian Bible-belt state much like our own. This story reminded me of The Chronicle’s Bill King’s story Saturday about Baptist preacher Emmett Soloman, who runs a friend in need program for some of the 50 to 100 ex-offenders who exit TDC everyday with $50 and a bus ticket. King writes..

“At the rate we put people in prison in Texas we need to be concerned about what happens when they are released. Worldwide, the incarceration rate is about 160 individuals for every 100,000 people. The second highest incarceration rate is Russia at about 650. The highest is the United States at 750. In Texas, the rate is about 1,000. That is, at any given time, about one person in 100 in Texas is in a prison or jail, six times higher than the world average and higher than even the world's worst dictatorships. Even if we stop putting people in prison at the current rates, we will be releasing 20,000 to 30,000 prisoners each year for many years to come just from TDC. Many thousands more will be released from county and city jails.

“Most of those released do not have a family to take them in. Solomon told me that only about 5 percent of the men released are met by family members. The odds are heavily stacked against those with no support system. With almost no chance of finding a job or a decent place to live, most fall back into trouble within a few years. TDC studies show that about one in three is back in prison within three years. If you extend the time frame to five years and include other prisons and jails, the recidivism rate is more likely 60 percent to 70 percent. Since most of these inmates are also fathers, long absent from serving as any positive role model for their children, the cycle will likely be handed down to the next generation. The fact that Texas has one of the nation's highest incarceration rates and still has three cities with violent crime rates in the top 10 in the nation suggests that what we are doing now is not working.”


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