Legislators Consider Priorities – Schools vs. Prisons

What is the greater funding priority, schools or prisons?  One person answered: “If push comes to shove, kids can be home-schooled, but I’m pretty certain that dangerous prisoners can’t be home-prisoned.”  That comment is from the Spokesman-Review print edition from November 23rd, 2009.

Funding prisons before schools? Raise your hand if you think that is redonkulous!!

Funding prisons before schools? Raise your hand if you think that is redonkulous!!

In Washington State prison sentences have been gradually increasing over the years.  Every year the legislature wants to appear tough on crime, and accordingly mandatory sentences are increased.  Let’s look at four examples of how this has occurred:

Vehicular Homicide: This is the offense that is committed when a person drives while intoxicated and crashes and kills someone.  In 1987, the standard range set for this offense was 15-20 months in prison.    In 1993, the penalty was increased to a standard range of  21-27 months in prison.   Today the offense brings a punishment of 31-41 months.

Manslaughter First Degree: This is the offense that is committed when a person recklessly kills another human being.   In 1987, the offense brought a standard range of 31-41 months.  Today the punishment is 78 to 102 months in prison.

Assault First Degree: This offense is committed by assaulting another person and intentionally inflicting great bodily harm.   In 1987, this offense brought a standard range penalty of 62-82 months in prison.  Today the punishment is 93 to 123 months.

Child Molestation in the First Degree: This crime pretty much speaks for itself, and “first degree” means the victim was under 12.   In 1988, the mandatory standard range was 21-27 in prison.  Today the range is 51-68 months in prison.

My point is not that any one sentence is better than the other.  Rather my point is that many people look back with nostalgia on when courts were tougher on crime.  In fact, prison sentences are stiffer than they have ever been.   It isn’t very palatable for legislators to reduce sentences, but they may be considering allowing greater good-time incentives for non-violent prisoners.

I guess I agree with the person commenting in the Spokesman-Review that prisoners cannot “home-prison” themselves.  However, for certain offenders shouldn’t home-arrest and home monitoring be considered?  Particularly if the cost of incarceration is forcing us to close schools?

The U.S. loves prisons, but should perhaps consider some alternatives.   The U.S. has just 5% of the worlds population, but has 25% of the worlds prisoners.  See the article “Inmate Count in U.S. Dwarfs Other Nations” in the New York Times.   We have 751 people in prison or jail for every 100,000 in population.  Second place goes to Russia, with 627 prisoners for every 100,000 people.  England’s rate is 151; Germany’s is 88; and Japan’s is 63.

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Steve Graham is a criminal defense lawyer, and he splits his time between Spokane and Seattle, Washington. Visit his website by clicking: www.grahamdefense.com
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