Mandatory sentencing often unfair
Rick OutzenMandatory sentences make most people feel safer. They keep those no-good, bleeding-heart, liberal judges from releasing criminals out onto the streets before they have duly been punished for their evil ways.
Published: December 14, 2012
Published: December 14, 2012
However, the mandatory sentences carry a high price tag in lives and dollars. We have tripled our inmate populations nationwide, eating up county and state budgets. Nearly one in 100 adults in this country is in prison or jail — the highest reported rate of incarceration of any country. Medicaid is the only item in most state budgets that has been growing faster than corrections.
Moreover, not all those serving the mandatory sentences are hardened criminals.
Stephanie George has been in federal prison since 1997 for conspiracy to possess with intent to distribute cocaine base. The mother of three, who was 27 when she was sentenced, is serving a mandatory life sentence with no chance for parole.
George grew up poor in Escambia County, one of the poorest large counties in the state. People living in poverty don't always make good decisions. She chose to date a drug dealer who helped support her family. George occasionally delivered and sold drugs to help him.
In 1993, she was arrested twice — once for possession of a small quantity of crack and another time for selling $120 worth of crack to a police informant. George was convicted and served nine months in jail.
Three years later, her boyfriend got out of prison. George allowed him to live in her house. Police raided George's residence and found 500 grams of cocaine and $13,710 in an attic safe belonging to the former boyfriend, who told police that he paid her to let him reside and store crack at her house.
At the time of her arrest, George had no cash, no bank account and owned no other property besides her car, valued at $2,500. She depended on food stamps and welfare to provide for her children.
At her federal trial, George received a sentence enhancement for obstruction of justice because she testified that she had no knowledge of and did not participate in her ex-boyfriend's drug activity. Because of her 1993 drug offenses, Stephanie was categorized as a career criminal, which mandated a life sentence without parole.
There were five co-defendants, actual drug dealers. Stephanie George received the longest sentence of any of them. The ex-boyfriend was freed from jail in 2007.
It's time we re-examine the "law and order" measures that we passed during the Reagan era, especially strict sentence guidelines that prohibit judges considering any mitigating factors.
Clearly in the case of Stephanie George, justice has not been served.
Rick Outzen is the publisher/editor of Pensacola's Independent News. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.