Wednesday, April 11, 2007

Debating criminal penalty increases

Matthew Wright at the Texas Observer blog picks up on a debate between myself and Rep. Aaron Peña over the weekend in the comments to this Grits post about the wisdom of passing new criminal penalty increases, known euphemistically at the Lege as "enhancements," at a time when Texas prisons are full. My friend Ana Yañez Correa told Wright that the Texas Legislative Council, which drafts most bills, too often reflexively assumes increased penalties deter the targeted activity, when often it's not true:
Ana Yañez-Correa, executive director of the Texas Criminal Justice Coalition, tells the Observer that legislators are not necessarily enamored with enhancements, but that they are basically the default language the Council uses when drafting a bill. So if a rep asks Lege Council to draft them a bill that, say, cuts down on graffiti, without any more specifics, the first draft is usually simple enhancement language. Easy to make it look like you’ve gotten tough, without doing anything to really fix the problem.

“Automatically, there’s this assumption that increasing the penalty for the crime will decrease the likelihood of a person committing a crime,” Yañez-Correa said. “We need to think about: What actually is going to deter the criminal activity?”

That is a much more difficult problem than simply catering to the seemingly simple, yet increasingly dubious idea that stiffer penalties deter crime.

Go read the rest. IMO this is one of the most underreported, pervasively problematic legislative trends facing both our state and nation, not just this session but virtually every session.

9 comments:

Catonya said...

Much as I dislike redundancy, my comment replying to Rep Pena applies here.

"the majority of citizens have no idea what legislation is making it's way through the judiciary."

Even less likely to be aware of legislation are those who receive the sentences. Doubtful it will be much of a deterrent when those who should be deterred aren't even aware of the enhancements.

For that matter - how many citizens could quote any sentencing guidelines to begin with?

Anonymous said...

I agree, even the Legislators can't possibly understand the Texas criminal code and all it's "rules and regulations".

If they could figure it out, they truly have no hope of understanding how it really works on a day to day basis when plea bargains substitute for over 90% of criminal prosecutions, trials, appeals and "justice".

800 pound gorilla said...

I believe that there is evidence that tougher sentences reduce the number of lengthy trials by increasing the risk to defendant. Now THAT is something that someone who commits a crime understands - as well as innocent people who are accused of that crime. It does save taxpayers the expense of trials due to this extra leverage at plea bargains. Of course this assumes that people who commit the types of crimes that clog up our criminal justice system are deterred by jail time. For many it's treated like pollution fines are by big CEOs: just a cost of doing business. BTW, these polluters WOULD be deterred by hard time in a medium security prison.

Anonymous said...

The Judges and DA love to make a deal and sell it to the person on trial for their life or a big portion of their lives. That way, they get to score a win and don't have to do the work to win the case.

Making sentences longer not only costs the State more money, it also ruins families and most of the families who are at home have to go on welfare. I still would like for those who want to increase penalties to go spend April through October in a Texas prison and see how you like it and what you are doing to the human race who is unfortunate enough to get caught in a crooked trap of the unjust justice system.

The longer a person has to stay locked up in these unhuman conditions the worse their attitudes are. If they need to be incarcerated, give them a reason to live, job training and rehab if there is a drug problem, but remember, they are human and God's children and don't mistreat them for a mistake made in haste and without thought in their lives. Think about what you would do in the same situation!!

Anonymous said...

Most folks that go to prison for any reason could care less that their fsmily has to go on "WELFARE" and most already have a crappy attitude. Why do you THINK that they commit a CRIMINAL act in the first place?

Anonymous said...

Anonymous at 9:32 --- A crappy attitude is created by a society that makes everyday life activities a crime and punishes the poor.

Justice is about making a better society, not locking people into cages.

Texngal said...

To Anonymous who thinks those who go to prison do not care about their families, what part of you is inhuman?

Families get hurt especially when that person did not commit the crime they were sent to prison for. Get out of your shell and look around, you might learn a thing or two or maybe three about the judicial system and how very corrupt it is.

sunray's wench said...

If prison, long sentences and the death penalty were real deterrants, then TX would have empty jails and prisons, no one on parole and a lot more people out of work.

People who commit crimes rarely think of the consequences, either before or during the act.

And as for them not caring if their families are on welfare because the inmate isnt on the outside working to be a productive citizen, have to say buddy, if the family is on welfare then they wont be sending any money to the trust funds, so yes I think the inmates DO care, even if only for more selfish reasons. That said, my hubby hates that his mother and I send him money, so I tell him he doesnt have to spend it if he doesnt want to. TX makes a lot of money out of me, one way or another.

Anonymous said...

Unless the inmate is a repeat offender, I doublt he has any idea of the time he will serve for his crime or the effect on his family or his own life for that matter. There is little or no justice left in the system.