27 March 2008

Creative Sentencing

From Yahoo News: "Judge orders Spanish-speaking men to learn English or go to jail."

The headline choice is pretty outrageous, since it smacks of racism and nationalism and anti-immigrationism and all that. Yahoo probably could have done better, but they want us to click on it and follow through, so it's hard to get too worked up over that (though I did recently beg the news industry to please quit over-sensationalizing all things political).

Despite my initial misgivings, however, I'm pretty impressed by the judge and his choice of sentencing.

The men, who faced prison for criminal conspiracy to commit robbery, can remain on parole if they learn to read and write English, earn their GEDs and get full-time jobs, Luzerne County Judge Peter Paul Olszewski Jr. said.

The men, Luis Reyes, Ricardo Dominguez and Rafael Guzman-Mateo, plus a fourth defendant, Kelvin Reyes-Rosario, all needed translators when they pleaded guilty Tuesday.

"Do you think we are going to supply you with a translator all of your life?" the judge asked them.

It's good all around, actually. Get these guys degrees, language skills, and jobs, and (hopefully) they won't be as likely to shake down strangers on the street for drugs and money. They have all served or are serving jail time for their crimes, and then they get a chance to make good. I like that idea a whole lot more than locking them up for 2-5 years, or whatever the sentencing norm is on something like this, especially in a time when our penal system is more overburdened than ever.

Plenty of folks will be up in arms if one of these guys goes on to commit a serious felony in the next 24 months, but let's face it, prison doesn't cure people of wanting to commit crimes. Everybody but the most grievous offenders gets out eventually--unless you're in California, where plenty of non-grievous offenders may never get out, thanks to current, 3-strikes sentencing rules--and as a society we've got to face the fact that our corrections system doesn't have a very good reputation for correcting much of anything.

I say let's see a little more of this creative sentencing, where possible and appropriate, and see how it all pans out.