A Recommendation on Acknowledging Recidivism From Tennessee

More interesting crime coverage from The Tennessean, this time an editorial detailing the legislative proposals of the Tennessee Public Safety Commission, a coalition of police chiefs, sheriffs and district attorneys.  Every state should take note of one of the get-tough-on-recidivists recommendations they’re making:

[Another] proposal of the group is for requiring each home burglary committed in a 24-hour period to count as separate cases. They would be considered separate previous convictions. Prosecutors say many burglars are aware that hitting several homes in one 24-hour period is considered only one case. That should change.

It’s not just burglaries committed within twenty-four hours of each other that get telescoped down to one charge.  Look at recidivists’ rap sheets.  One of the great injustices perpetrated by our justice system is the near-automatic dismissal of multiple crimes whenever a defendant gets charged with one offense.  Break into five homes, get caught, get charged and sentenced on one burglary count.  The other four burglaries are quietly shelved.  And if the defendant is a first offender, he may get away with all five charges.

The same is even true of violent crime.  By choosing expediency over actually responding to crimes, the criminal justice system is essentially saying to victims: your victimization doesn’t count.  The person next to you; his victimization counts.  The person on the other side: he is being ignored by the justice system, just like you.  

There is no equal protection for crime victims.  

This is the way it has been for so long that people who work within the criminal justice system would probably find the mere notion of demanding prosecution for every felony utterly risible.  Not to mention impossible, since the courts have been calibrated (read: defunded, or starved) to have resources only to respond to a fraction of the crimes that are committed.  

But why, precisely, should it be this way?  Why, philosophically, shouldn’t non-criminals — law abiding citizens — have the same rights and access to equal protection as people who commit crimes?  Why shouldn’t your burglary count in the same way as your neighbor’s burglary?  

The short answer, cavalierly thrown out by pro-criminal advocates, is that the justice system would “grind to a halt” if all felonies were prosecuted.  Note that these are the same people who simultaneously say that our justice system is “far to harsh on defendants,” and that “it is a great injustice that America has so many people behind bars,” as if this is just something that happens spontaneously, with no relation to the fact that America has so many people who commit serious crimes.

Appeals courts are clogged with complaints by convicts that they have been treated unfairly, compared to other convicts.  And every single one of those cases, however frivolous, must be addressed, a process that costs taxpayers vast amounts of money.   Imagine if non-convicts had the right to do the same.  

Perhaps somebody in the Georgia General Assembly should look into emulating the Tennessee Public Safety Commission’s proposed recidivism legislation.  If it had been on the books in Georgia (and properly enforced), it would have saved lives.

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3 thoughts on “A Recommendation on Acknowledging Recidivism From Tennessee”

  1. A lot of good points in this one, Tina. The way we (taxpayers) deal with the cost of police, courts and jails reminds me of the relationship workers had to the state in the former Comunist countries: we pretend to pay them, and they pretend to work. The lawyers who do get paid well for their work- defense atorneys- only have to spend a couple hours a day with the great unwashed, and you’d be hard pressed to find judges who routinely show up after lunch. Everybody else eats shit and is supposed to be happy about it.

    As a tradesman, I’m well aquainted with the maxim, Do it well and do it once. What we’ve got instead, what we’ve attracted through our penurious aversion to taxes are scammers and incompetents who do better the worse they let the system get. At least they have to spend a lot of time with their social equals, the accused and the convicted.

  2. Tina, one of my family members retired from the parole office in a north Georgia county and I often talk with him about such things. His biggest issue was they are practically required to release criminals who are most likely going to commit another crime because they have nowhere to hold them. What do we do with the criminals who are very unlikely to be rehabilitated? To we allow endless appeals based on no clear reason?

    One of our mutual friends was burglarized for the second or third time by the SAME guy. The perpetrator is now sentenced to fifteen years and must serve seven of those, or something like that. My money is on him committing the same crime when he gets out. He also stated that had they been home, he would have killed them. What do you do with him? He is a habitual criminal and will, except for a miracle, follow in the same path if released.

    I see the criminal justice system’s job is to make sure that the accused is guilty beyond a reasonable doubt and that they are kept out of the public for a time, to attempt to correct their actions by showing the consequences. If there is some reason the accused did not receive a fair trial or there is new evidence, it should be heard. But if the crime is grievous enough or if they are a habitual offender, they should be removed from the public forever. The likelihood of them repeating the same acts or greater acts is simply to great and they must live with the consequences of their actions.

  3. Daniel: What we need to do is start demanding that our legislators take a hard look at recidivism and pressure the courts to do the same. In the Atlanta area, a growing Court-Watch movement is beginning to hold specific judges accountable for releasing repeat offenders back into the community. State legislators need to hear from people who want burglary to be added to the crimes with minimum mandatory sentencing. They are certainly hearing from the activists who want to end incarceration and offer “alternative” sentencing for most crimes.

    I imagine it would be quite politically viable to pass a law in Georgia imposing a minimum mandatory sentence for the crime of burglary and preventing judges from sentencing burglars to “community incarceration” options — in other words, letting them go.

    However, the culture of the new Justice Department is vehemently anti-incarceration. So it will depend upon the states to protect people from recidivist criminals. It’s also important to scrutinize grants arriving in your area from the federal stimulus package and to oppose local programs that will fund community-based “alternatives to incarceration.” Once these programs receive funding, there will be significant added pressure on judges and parole boards to let more convicts go.

    What about drug addicts? I support drug courts and alternative sentencing for treatment (so long as the offender hasn’t also committed a burglary, theft, or any violent crime), but I don’t support community-based, alternative sentencing for drug court convictions. If addicts want help, they should receive it, first, as part of their incarceration, locked away from the twin temptations to use and to commit more crime.

    It is terrifying that a felon who repeatedly burglarized your friends acknowledged the willingness to kill them. Hopefully, the parole board gets the message in his case.

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