Pubdate: Wed, 28 Nov 2007
Source: Michigan Daily (U of MI, Edu)
Copyright: 2007 The Michigan Daily
Bookmark: (Mandatory Minimum Sentencing)
Bookmark: (Incarceration)
Bookmark: (Drug Courts)


In the latest of his many considerable flip-flops, Republican
presidential candidate Mitt Romney called on Massachusetts Superior
Court Judge Kathe Tuttman - whom he appointed to the bench when he was
Massachusetts governor - to resign.

Tuttman is at the center of a major controversy over her decision to
allow a murderer to be released near the end of his sentence, despite
a pending charge of assaulting a corrections officer.

The prisoner, Daniel Tavares Jr., went on to kill a newlywed

As horrible a situation as this is, it's hardly a time for the
scapegoating and politicking that Romney has taken up.

Rather than recognize the ineptitude of a prison system that simply
holds prisoners for 16 years without any meaningful effort at
reforming them, Romney is busy pointing the finger of blame.

Such shortsighted, irresponsible attitudes are common among lawmakers,
and they create an atmosphere that debilitates progress in prison
reform and ignores the fact that our country's trend of mass arrests
and mass incarceration does little to make our society safer.

America's incarceration rate is the highest among developed countries.
The number of people in our prisons has quadrupled since 1980 - not
because there are so many more violent offenders, but simply because
we have criminalized even trivial offenses in the "War on Drugs."
Because of stricter drug laws, police began arresting more people for
drug-related crimes, leading to more inmates in our prisons, more
instances of overcrowding and more tax dollars funneled into
incarceration. By 2003, drug arrests accounted for 68 percent of
prison population growth and 20 percent of the total prison population
nationwide. And we aren't safer for it.

With prisons overcrowded by nonviolent offenders, it's no wonder that
violent inmates leave prison without having received the type of
rehabilitation they need. Rather than incarcerating every person who
breaks the law, the government should use alternatives for non-violent
offenders like drug courts, mental health courts and community
service. Drug courts are judicial systems that identify, monitor and
treat drug offenders through probation, social services and clinical

In 2005, the Governmental Accountability Office reported that the drug
court program helped to substantially lower re-arrest and conviction
rates among the program's graduates.

If the government employed methods like the drug courts, mass
incarceration and overcrowding in prisons could be significantly curtailed.

However, our prison's problems reach far beyond overcapacity. Romney
claims that Tavares should not have been released from prison early
because he is a violent man incapable of living in society.

But as former Massachusetts attorney general Scott Harshbarger has
said, Romney is "making a political calculation, and (Tuttman is) an
easy target." The real problem lies in our prison systems' continuing
emphasis on punishment instead of rehabilitation.

Incarcerating criminals for extended periods of time does not
automatically mean that they will change for the better - and no, this
doesn't mean we should simply kill them. Statistically, the current
system of incarceration does very little to deter repeat offenders.
Some legislatures are calling for harsher prisons and longer
sentences, but how will crueler prisons create kinder prisoners?

Rather than institute a more barbaric prison system, the government
should direct more resources to providing the help and support
services all inmates need if they are to have a chance at
rehabilitation. Today, about 60 percent of criminals commit another
crime within three years of their release: It's obvious that our
lock-em-up-and-throw-away-the-key strategy is not working to reform
inmates or protect our society.

Providing mental health services as well as substance abuse treatment
and helping to build up job skills are the only ways to ensure inmates
are prepared to live productive, crime-free lives upon release.

And that is the goal, after all. 
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MAP posted-by: Richard Lake