October 16, 2005

ISSUE: Last week, The Sun asked Anne Arundel readers for their views on how best to reduce crime. At a forum in Eastport, some participants called for judges to impose tougher sentences, but others called for better treatment and rehabilitation programs. Our question generated this response:

Three-strikes law misses the mark

It's easy to understand the frustration some residents feel with our broken criminal justice system. But a three-strikes law is not the answer. Far too many men and women are behind bars in this nation, for the rest of their natural lives, for committing a minor offense unfairly classified as a felony. Is society better served when a man is sent to prison for life after stealing a frozen dinner from a grocery store? I don't think so.

California has the toughest three-strikes law in the nation on the books. Ten years ago, a 37-year old Army veteran named Leandro Andrade got a sentence of 50 years to life for stealing five videos from a K-Mart (allegedly to be used as Christmas gifts for his children). He is still behind bars. Washington state passed a three-strikes law in 1993, and not long after, 29-year-old Paul Rivers was sentenced to life for stealing $337 from an espresso stand. These sentences are unconscionable.

Let's face it. Americans do not get outraged about the fear of having a few hundred dollars stolen from them. Americans shouldn't be outraged about the man on the street using drugs. America's real crime fear stems from things that impact our lives immensely and long-term. The sentence handed down for violent crimes or crimes involving the use of a handgun must be extremely harsh, the first time. Nobody should be in jail for possession of any controlled substance, or theft of any amount of money that won't result in a long-term consequence to the victim until such time that all violent offenders are put in jail, and can be kept in jail.

Until our prison capacity can accommodate such sentences, those who commit nonviolent crimes should be sentenced to other forms of punishment. No parent fears letting their teenagers go to the mall on Friday night because they might have their money stolen from them. What is feared is physical harm, and this is what must be addressed by our criminal justice system. Let's take those individuals who have proven that they have the propensity to act violently against the rest of society and lock them up until they are too old and feeble to be a threat. And if we don't have the prison capacity to do that, then let's start releasing all of the nonviolent offenders who are currently incarcerated.

Michael P. DeCicco Severn

We want your opinions


: Despite the urging of students, parents, school administrators, politicians and civic leaders, the Anne Arundel County Board of Education voted this month against expanding the school system's rigorous International Baccalaureate program to Meade High School next year. Board members who voted against the expansion said they weren't against the IB program, but that the school system and soon-departing Superintendent Eric J. Smith lack a clear plan for creating high-level educational opportunities throughout the system.


: Should the IB program be expanded to Meade? Tell us what you think at arundel.speakout@baltsun.com by Thursday. Please keep your response short, and include your name, address and daytime phone number. A selection will be published next Sunday.

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