May 052004
 
Authors: Joe Marshall

If justice is blind in America, what place does such a

black-and-white practice as mandatory minimum sentencing have in

our courts?

The Georgia State Supreme Court on Monday set Marcus Dixon free.

In 2003, Dixon was convicted of felony aggravated child molestation

and misdemeanor statutory rape for having sex with a 15-year-old

girl when he was 18. He had been serving the mandatory minimum

sentence of 10 years brought on by the molestation conviction.

I am not going to ponder whether or not justice was served on

Monday’s ruling. I am simply using this case to highlight the fact

that even after he was acquitted of the most serious crimes, an

18-year-old faced 10 years in prison because that sentence was the

minimum allowable time allotted under state law.

During his original trial, Dixon was also tried and acquitted of

the charges of rape, aggravated assault, sexual battery and false

imprisonment.

Aggravated child molestation carries such a harsh penalty

because it was written to prosecute pedophiles. The practice of

mandatory minimum sentencing, however, does not allow for any

exceptions to be made for extraordinary cases like Dixon’s. This

means Dixon was prosecuted as a pedophile and not as an 18-year-old

commingling with a 15-year-old, an act that has openly taken place

at countless proms and sock hops since the beginning of time.

Before the advent of congressional mandatory minimum-sentencing

guidelines in the late 1980s, the sentencing of a convicted

criminal was left up to individual judges. When sentencing a

criminal, a judge takes into consideration variables like a prior

criminal record and mental heath, as well as the particulars of the

crime committed.

The practice of mandatory minimum sentencing now places

sentencing guidelines in the hands of prosecutors, who are the ones

with authority over which charges to seek against a defendant. As a

result, the judge responsible for a criminal’s formal sentencing

has little room in which to make exceptions for extraordinary

circumstances such as Dixon’s.

Because the judge’s hands are tied, innumerable people have been

given sentences far too harsh for the crime they committed. As a

consequence, our prison population has been expanding out of

control for the last 15 years.

It is a fact, according to homeoffice.gov, that the United

States of America incarcerates a larger number of people, both

total (1.96 million) and per capita (686 per 100,000), than any

other nation on the planet.

According to the U.S. Bureau of Prisons, as of February, 54.7

percent of federal prisoners are incarcerated on drug charges

alone. African Americans make up just over 40 percent of the

population, even though they comprise only 12.9 percent of the

total U.S. population. Latino peoples comprise over 30 percent of

the prison population but only 12.5 percent of the total U.S.

population.

Domestic violence and drug abuse have time and again been shown

to have equal rates of incidence across all socio-economic lines.

Why, then, are minorities over-represented in our prison

population? Might this phenomenon be indicative of some deeply

rooted inequity within our justice system, or is it deeper than

that?

Since the introduction of mandatory minimums around 1990, the

United States’ prison population has nearly tripled. With such

sudden growth, the federal government dreamed up a housing solution

only an American would think of: privatization of the penal

institution.

The U.S. government pays private corporations tens of billions

per year to house inmates, and these corporations in turn entice

prisoners with early release if they work in the prison factory

making cheap furniture or gaskets or toys for around $2 per

hour.

Wait, so these companies get access to semi-skilled, mostly

literate, mostly American labor for $2 an hour? No! They’re getting

paid about 50 cents an hour to keep the prisoners busy! It’s like

having slaves, but cheaper!

Three of the four private corporations with links I checked on

the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees

Web site posted share gains last week. It is these corporations and

their congressional lobby that not only helps convince Congress to

keep mandatory minimums, but also keeps funding the drug war.

Drug addicts need rehabilitation, not institutionalization.

Unfortunately, having an indentured servant for manufacturing is

infinitely more profitable than paying a rehabilitated laborer a

decent wage.

Our practice of using incarceration as a means of reform is both

morally bankrupt and ignorant of the problems it perpetuates. Of

all the melanomas currently afflicting contemporary American

society, I believe it is our flawed system of justice that is both

the most noxious and the most neglected.

Yet after an unsuccessful campaign to strike down mandatory

minimum sentencing during the late 1990s, it seems as though

America has come to accept this blemish on its character. Our

prisons continue to be filled over capacity, and we are attempting

to remedy this problem by building more prisons.

Enjoy your freedom this summer, and, oh, did I mention that

Marcus Dixon had a 3.96 GPA in high school and, at the time of the

“criminal” act, had already accepted an athletic scholarship to

Vanderbilt? And that he’s black, and his accuser is Caucasian?

Think about it.

This is Joe’s final column of the year but readers don’t fret,

Joe will be returning to the opinion page next year.

 Posted by at 5:00 pm

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May 052004
 
Authors: Joe Marshall

If justice is blind in America, what place does such a

black-and-white practice as mandatory minimum sentencing have in

our courts?

The Georgia State Supreme Court on Monday set Marcus Dixon free.

In 2003, Dixon was convicted of felony aggravated child molestation

and misdemeanor statutory rape for having sex with a 15-year-old

girl when he was 18. He had been serving the mandatory minimum

sentence of 10 years brought on by the molestation conviction.

I am not going to ponder whether or not justice was served on

Monday’s ruling. I am simply using this case to highlight the fact

that even after he was acquitted of the most serious crimes, an

18-year-old faced 10 years in prison because that sentence was the

minimum allowable time allotted under state law.

During his original trial, Dixon was also tried and acquitted of

the charges of rape, aggravated assault, sexual battery and false

imprisonment.

Aggravated child molestation carries such a harsh penalty

because it was written to prosecute pedophiles. The practice of

mandatory minimum sentencing, however, does not allow for any

exceptions to be made for extraordinary cases like Dixon’s. This

means Dixon was prosecuted as a pedophile and not as an 18-year-old

commingling with a 15-year-old, an act that has openly taken place

at countless proms and sock hops since the beginning of time.

Before the advent of congressional mandatory minimum-sentencing

guidelines in the late 1980s, the sentencing of a convicted

criminal was left up to individual judges. When sentencing a

criminal, a judge takes into consideration variables like a prior

criminal record and mental heath, as well as the particulars of the

crime committed.

The practice of mandatory minimum sentencing now places

sentencing guidelines in the hands of prosecutors, who are the ones

with authority over which charges to seek against a defendant. As a

result, the judge responsible for a criminal’s formal sentencing

has little room in which to make exceptions for extraordinary

circumstances such as Dixon’s.

Because the judge’s hands are tied, innumerable people have been

given sentences far too harsh for the crime they committed. As a

consequence, our prison population has been expanding out of

control for the last 15 years.

It is a fact, according to homeoffice.gov, that the United

States of America incarcerates a larger number of people, both

total (1.96 million) and per capita (686 per 100,000), than any

other nation on the planet.

According to the U.S. Bureau of Prisons, as of February, 54.7

percent of federal prisoners are incarcerated on drug charges

alone. African Americans make up just over 40 percent of the

population, even though they comprise only 12.9 percent of the

total U.S. population. Latino peoples comprise over 30 percent of

the prison population but only 12.5 percent of the total U.S.

population.

Domestic violence and drug abuse have time and again been shown

to have equal rates of incidence across all socio-economic lines.

Why, then, are minorities over-represented in our prison

population? Might this phenomenon be indicative of some deeply

rooted inequity within our justice system, or is it deeper than

that?

Since the introduction of mandatory minimums around 1990, the

United States’ prison population has nearly tripled. With such

sudden growth, the federal government dreamed up a housing solution

only an American would think of: privatization of the penal

institution.

The U.S. government pays private corporations tens of billions

per year to house inmates, and these corporations in turn entice

prisoners with early release if they work in the prison factory

making cheap furniture or gaskets or toys for around $2 per

hour.

Wait, so these companies get access to semi-skilled, mostly

literate, mostly American labor for $2 an hour? No! They’re getting

paid about 50 cents an hour to keep the prisoners busy! It’s like

having slaves, but cheaper!

Three of the four private corporations with links I checked on

the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees

Web site posted share gains last week. It is these corporations and

their congressional lobby that not only helps convince Congress to

keep mandatory minimums, but also keeps funding the drug war.

Drug addicts need rehabilitation, not institutionalization.

Unfortunately, having an indentured servant for manufacturing is

infinitely more profitable than paying a rehabilitated laborer a

decent wage.

Our practice of using incarceration as a means of reform is both

morally bankrupt and ignorant of the problems it perpetuates. Of

all the melanomas currently afflicting contemporary American

society, I believe it is our flawed system of justice that is both

the most noxious and the most neglected.

Yet after an unsuccessful campaign to strike down mandatory

minimum sentencing during the late 1990s, it seems as though

America has come to accept this blemish on its character. Our

prisons continue to be filled over capacity, and we are attempting

to remedy this problem by building more prisons.

Enjoy your freedom this summer, and, oh, did I mention that

Marcus Dixon had a 3.96 GPA in high school and, at the time of the

“criminal” act, had already accepted an athletic scholarship to

Vanderbilt? And that he’s black, and his accuser is Caucasian?

Think about it.

This is Joe’s final column of the year but readers don’t fret,

Joe will be returning to the opinion page next year.

 Posted by at 5:00 pm