Submitted by Charlton Stanley, guest blogger
There is no dispute that jails are overcrowded. Many counties spend millions on new and improved jails, only to have them fill to capacity the first day they open. This is nothing new. Some judges have found themselves faced with the dilemma of sentencing a defendant to jail, but there is literally, “No room at the inn.” Some chief judges have been forced to order felony inmates released before their sentences were up, simply to make room for new inmates.
Some judges, especially at the municipal and county levels, have turned to creative sentencing. Some of the sentences seem to fit the crime and make one smile at the same time, such as sentencing young adults with ‘boom-box’ cars ticketed for loud music to spend anywhere from an hour to all day listening to classical music, jazz, bagpipes and oriental music. There was one judge who played saxophone in a jazz band, and he would throw in a few recordings of his own music. I don’t know how good the judge is on the sax, or whether that might come under the heading of cruel and unusual punishment.
There are a number of cases where slumlords were ordered to live in their own slum properties. One of those cases was used as the story line on a TV crime drama program several years ago.
Public shaming has been tried as an alternative sentence. Wearing sandwich board signs in public proclaiming their idiocy to their friends and neighbors, wearing a chicken suit, and whatever else the judge thought appropriate. When the Stolen Valor Act was in effect, one defendant was sentenced to 500 hours of community service working with groundskeepers tending the graves at the nearest National Cemetery. I don’t have a problem with making the sentence fit the offense, but some go too far, and some are far too lenient. Lack of consistency or rules for alternative sentences results in lack of fairness to both victims and defendants. It is the other extreme from mandatory minimum sentences where the judge has no discretion at all.
This weekend, Jonathan Turley, our blog host, debated Professor Peter Moskos on NPR. Mr. Moskos is a former police officer and now teaches law. He has written on the subject of alternative punishment, and the title of his most recent book, In Defense of Flogging, is provocative if nothing else. He also authored a column in the Washington Times entitled, Bring Back the Lash: Why flogging is more humane than prison.
Sorry, Professor Moskos. Fifty years after Dr. King gave his famous speech on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial, I don’t think we want to go there.