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Phase Ii Discussion Board

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* Are habitual offender laws targeting the right people for incarceration?
I firmly believe that habitual offender laws do not target the right individuals for incarceration nor are they a proper deterrent to committing any further crimes. The question of the “right individual” can boil down to the type and scope of the crime committed (misdemeanor or felony). Because of the use of the “3 strikes you’re out” law in many states individuals are being sentenced and incarcerated for longer prison terms simply because it was their third offense. There is no proportionality within our justice system, for example in California an individual can be convicted of two violent crimes and then serve a life sentence if convicted of any other crime (third strike). Even though the U.S. Supreme court held a 5-4 majority that such sentences did not violate the Eight Amendment of the U.S. Constitution (cruel and unusual punishment) I believe this to be wrong and a form of unusual punishment for the habitual shop lifter who after being convicted of a third offense (now a felony) will now go to prison for life.
Secondly the rate of incarceration and arrest for many of the individuals is disproportionate to the number of crimes committed. According to the American Bar Association out of 34 million serious crimes committed only 3 million results in arrests. Of this number a large portion of them are minorities (African American males) who are overrepresented in all crime statistics with the highest numbers of arrest and convictions.
Finally the cost of housing an inmate for life time incarceration has increased and become a serious burden on tax payers. The average cost in 2007 to house inmates in federal, state, and local lock ups was $30, 600 a year (for 2, 419, 241 inmates). The American Civil Liberties Union published a report in 2012 that states that the elderly population has climbed 1300% since the 1980s with 125,000 inmates 55 or older now incarcerated (John Rudolf – 13 Jun 2012 http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2012/06/13/elderly-inmate-population-soars_n_1594793.html). Louisiana has the highest “for profit” prison system in the United States and is known as the “prison capital of the world” with a $182 million dollar industry dependant on a constant influx of new inmates to maintain the industry.

* Should individuals who commit misdemeanors, regardless of their status, be subjected to lengthy prison terms?
I do not think individuals who commit misdemeanors and are convicted should be given lengthy prison terms. With many of the states adopting the “3 strikes” rule many judges cannot mitigate the sentences of the convicted. Judicial discretion during the sentencing phase ties the judge’s hands since most of the habitual offender laws make life sentences mandatory without the possibility of parole. This makes the sentencing phase in our justice system a moot point. Eliminating the parole part of the justice process reduces the possibility of the convicted individual to reform. This could lead to extreme behavior if the individual does not see a reason to surrender and could elevate from a misdemeanor to a violent crime. And it could give the individual who has committed a 2nd crime no reason not to continue his criminal behavior.

* What standards should govern whether defendants are prosecuted as habitual offenders?
I believe that habitual offender law should not punish those who have extenuating circumstances as to why the pattern of crime was committed and should be handled on case by case bases. Many habitual offender laws do not allow for any “wiggle room” or a “gray area” for punishments, sentencing, or parole. Some defendants may have undiagnosed mental problems or a social background that makes them prone to such behavior that our prison system cannot cope with or correct. We should develop a system where the accused is medically examined after the second conviction to determine if they have a family, environment, or social history that could be the cause of the habitual behavior (shop lifting for example). This is not to say that some criminals should be given a pass, this process cannot be used as an excuse for violent offenders to reduce or lessen their sentence. The original reason for the “3 strikes” law was to protect the public from violent offenders but has instead yielded the highest rate of confinement for non-violent offenders. The greatest force behind this growth in the prison population is the “war on drugs” with many police forces targeting the inner city areas because of the ease of catching drug transactions on the city streets. Because of this many habitual offenders are prosecuted when their offense really does not warrant it. We should find different way to punish these types of offenders instead of handing out life long sentences with no hope of parole or reintegration back into society.

James Adams III

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