With the next election cycle drawing nearer and everyone throwing their hat in the ring to be the next "savior" of the country, the public will start hearing the same old tired myths that get trotted out each election year. Many of these myths have been passed down several generations and are now somehow interpreted as gospel simply because a candidate, party or political organization says so. The electorate or voting public rarely does research on these issues and often accept truth based on their party affiliation. I recently heard one of these "myths" used in a church sermon and immediately knew I would address it in this forum. As the campaign season progresses I am positive that I will have opportunities to discuss all the myths as they come up. I will provide the myth, the math and allow you to decide for yourself.
This week's myth was stated in conjunction with a description of the problems facing the country today. Paraphrasing the statement, the reference was to issues involving "our broken prison system which contains too many people serving life sentences for non-violent crimes". I have heard this claim made by politicians, activists, ministers and other sometimes well meaning people and usually used in the context of poor old drug "users" suffering for their addictions. While no "system" in the United States is perfect it seems easier for those that believe this to blame the prison system, law enforcement or the judicial system and not society in general. Is it possible that the criminals are more culpable than the "broken" system?
Let's clear something up right off the bat; there are NO prisoners serving life sentences for non violent crimes. The State of North Carolina has "structured sentencing". North Carolina judges have some discretion in lengths of sentences for a defendant found guilty of a crime but each crime has been legislated into classes for sentencing purposes. Felony offenses in North Carolina are divided into 10 classes; A, B1, B2, C through I. Each class carries minimum and maximum presumptive ranges for lengths of sentences. Life sentences can only be imposed in Class A, B1 and B2 offenses. Those crimes are; 1st degree murder (A), Unlawful Use of a Nuclear Device (A), 1st degree Rape (B), 1st Degree Sex Offense (B), Statutory Rape (B), Incest with a child under 13 years of age (B), Manufacturing a Nuclear Bomb (B) and Unlawful Use of a Nuclear Bomb (B). Which one of these criminal offenses are considered "non violent"?
In fact one has to look all the way down to Class C to find a non-violent crime that you can only get 15 years maximum for; Embezzlement greater than $100,000. How did this "myth" of a non violent life sentence come about? More than likely it is derived from defendants found guilty of multiple offenses and had their sentences run concurrent giving the appearance of a life sentence. I haven't heard any politicians or activists standing up to defend embezzlers, only defendants of drug related offenses.
There are NO drug users serving long sentences in prison. There are drug dealers that use but they have been convicted of dealing, not using. Are they "non violent"? According to the website cdc.gov (Center for Disease Control and Prevention) which tracks statistical data regarding causes of death in the United States, homicides accounted for 16,121 deaths in 2013. Drug overdoses accounted for 46,471 deaths in 2013. If a criminal offense is assisting in creating a death rate more than 30,000 people per year than acts of homicide how can it be perceived as non violent? Families of drug dependant people use phrases like "he's torn this family apart" or "she has destroyed her life". The adjectives and verbs in these sentences are of a violent nature and the carnage is statistically documented that drug dealers wreak on our society yet we make "excuses" to allow them out of prison to cause even more damage. Their actions cause increases in other criminal offenses such as larcenies and robberies committed by their "customers" that encourages deeper addictions and consequences. All of these actions by these so called "non violent" criminals drive the crime rate up across the board. Is this a problem created by the prison system?
Drug dealers and other "non violent" offenders know the consequences of their actions before they act. They know the difference between right and wrong and make their own decisions whether to risk getting caught. Is the problem here a prison system designed to protect society from the havoc these criminals cause, or a society of enablers that continuously want to make excuses for bad behavior? Is it really that complicated?