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Economics Trumps Retribution in Minnesota Prisons

In an Opinion piece contained in the May 19, 2011, Minneapolis Star and Tribune, Hennepin(Minneapolis) County Sheriff Rich Stanek co-authored an article advocating that tough budget times dictate that we consider releasing non-violent offenders from prison and, instead, use some of the $33,000.00 spent on each inmate each year towards rehabilitation in community-based programs.

If escalating costs drive the argument for reducing prison expenses through utilizing community-based programs, so be it. The recognition that citizens simply cannot afford to subsidize this folly of warehousing  non-violent offenders, regardless of the costs-including sheer economics-is way past due.

Non-violent felons is one of the most exploitable groups by politicians who wrap themselves in the mantel of law and order, to say nothing of the fact that this group politically impotent. Yet, repeatedly, most return to their communities and try to regain some semblance of normalcy while struggling with their demons.

If society as a whole is concerned only with costs, then the most efficient and most rewarding means to dealing with this nagging problem in our prisons is to reduce the inmate population by utilizing community-based programs.

Simply put, we can no longer financially afford to subsidize the illusion of security through incarceration. It is a concept that, if not abandoned, will drag down our economy while continuing to prop up a very wobbly and demonstrably inefficient fallacy.

What Price Innocence for Ex-IMF Dominque Strauss-Kahn?

The focus and visibility brought to bear on the criminal justice system with the charging of Dominque Strauss- Kahn highlights two recurring, but troubling, issues that seem to be part and partial of our justice system. The first is the ubiquitous perpetrator walk or “perp walk.”

Regardless of your opinion of his guilt or innocence, how can we, as a nation that has enshrined the presumption of innocence in the federal and state constitutions,  reconcile the media feeding frenzy tainting a suspect’s right to a fair trial with that same suspect’s right to be presumed innocent? Even Mother Theresa would look guilty during a perp walk.

Why do we simply give lip service to this precious constitutional right? If Mr. Strauss-Kahn is guilty, then the evidence will seal his fate. Rape, in any form and of anyone is, by definition, indefensible. 

However, the jury’s  determination of whether the defendant is guilty or not guilty should be based on legally admissible evidence in a court of law, not in the court of public opinion. And the question for the jury is guilty or not guilty; it is never guilty or innocent as the jury never passes on the issue of innocence. A defendant is presumed to be innocent!

The dissemination of information to the media by the law enforcement community, including press releases by the prosecution, invariably is done so with the objective being to reach and, ultimately, taint the jury pool. We should not passively accept a defendant’s broadside attack on the character of the complainant anymore than such an attack on the defendant’s right to a fair trial with a fair jury.

And this leads to the second recurring issue. That is, the undermining and eroding of the presumption of innocence. The recent press releases state that the investigation is uncovering more damaging evidence. Why is this so important for public consumption? You can see this on full display in the Casey Anthony trial in Florida.

As to the Casey Anthony trial, I am not concerned with her guilt or innocence for purposes of this discussion. I am only concerned with each citizen’s right to a fair trial before a fair and impartial jury.

I guess most people will recognize the presumption of innocence and the right to a fair trial when it hits close to home:  one of their own is charged with a crime. That is not the threshold test for a defendant being tried fairly in the United States, nor should it be.

Dire economic conditions awaken Ohio Govenor to reality of non-violent offenders

Ohio Gov. Kasich, in an effort to grapple with Ohio’s economy, recently stated  during an interview his plan to release some non-violent offenders early from their prison sentence.

While there may be much to criticize in Kasich’s plan, his early release of non-violent felons is premised on two well-founded observations. First, most non-violent felons are housed with, and exposed to, extemely violent felons. Consequently, these non-violent felons return to society more bitter and frustrated than they were when entering prison.

Secondly, the cost of custodial containment in prison is significantly more expensive than confinement in a community-based program.

In addressing Ohio’s economic plight, Gov. Kasich’s early release of non-violent felons may have a salutory effect on Ohio: early reintegration of some of its citizens who have the opportunity to contribute to the economy and save Ohio.


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