Thursday, January 31, 2013

Two More Years of "Structure" for #00186571

Twenty-seven more months behind bars. That was the verdict my friend, age 23, was given at his trial last Tuesday.

True, it could have been worse. He had, after all, served a year's sentence on a drug charge once before, and was back again, this time for a probation violation (failure to keep his appointment with his P.O.), plus being caught driving his girl friend's car without a license, then seeking to elude the police at a check point--because he panicked and tried to get away to avoid getting put back into jail.

Bad, bad mistake. He knows it, regrets every bit of it, and has been sitting in our local jail for the past nine months because of it.

His attorney appealed to the judge to release him after a year in jail, then having him required to do an additional 90-days at Gemeinschaft Home, a local re-entry and drug rehabilitation program and be given an additional two year suspended sentence. His client was doing well, he said, was benefiting from having weekly visits with me for pastoral care and counseling, and was determined to get his life back together. Besides, his mother, in declining health and confined to a wheel chair, badly needed her son's help and support.

The prosecutor representing the Commonwealth's Attorney, on the other hand, while agreeing my friend was doing better, argued that he had made an extremely poor choice and would benefit from the "structure" (her term) of two more years of prison time.

The judge agreed. My heart sank, but who am I to question his judgment? How would I know what is fair and just, given the system of justice the judge is working with? And I do agree that releasing my friend would not have been a risk-free option.

But two more years of incarceration isn't risk-free, either, given the fact that prisons, by their very nature, are still more about punishment than rehabilitation. And at some point the law of diminishing returns sets in. If a year behind bars has some remedial effect on an inmate, will two years do twice that amount of good? Will three years bring about three times the desired amount of change?

I don't think so. In fact, at some point the opposite may become true. In the end, the person may be even less able to get his act together and make it in the outside real world.

And the cost to us taxpayers is enormous. Two more years in prison, plus still going through the Gemeinschaft program at the end of that time, which the judge also ordered, will cost us all at least $60,000. Minimum.

On the other hand, going directly to the 90-day Gemeinschaft program would have cost us around $3600, and my friend could have gotten a job while there, begun to help his mother financially, and actually started paying taxes while doing so.

I may be all wrong, of course. None of us has a crystal ball. But for a completely non-violent offender like my friend, I'd rather be on the side of giving him and other inmates every reasonable opportunity to do the right thing.

And if that doesn't work, we can always give them two more years later if necessary.

Here's a poem my friend sent me this week, and said I could post with this piece:

For every day that comes
opportunity awaits
For every day that passes
is a day too late

For every person you love
peace comes to mind
For every person you hate
trouble comes to find

For every time you remember
is a time that lasts
For every time you forget
is a time in the past

For every sin you commit
darkness takes lead
For every blessing you share
God takes heed

For every time you fail
there opens a door
For every time you succeed
there opens two more

Bulue Berry, HRRJ, 25 South Liberty Street, Harrisonburg, VA 22801 

For some additional posts about our local jail see
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