If you don’t know already, the criminal justice system needs massive reform desperately. President Obama knows reform is needed as evidence by his recent unprecedented visit to a federal prison. Some members of Congress, including Republicans, are finally on board too.
As a criminal defense attorney, I witness the need for reform every day. For instance, I represented a criminal defendant who was charged with theft enhanced, which means he had a prior theft conviction. He picked up the charge after a police officer witnessed him steal a piece of abandoned metal worth $0.96. That’s right, $0.96.
Theft enhanced is a state jail felony under Texas law. It carries state jail time of up to 2 years and no less than six months.
My client had already spent two months in jail. The prosecutor thought he should be jailed for nine months. I tried to convince him that it was nonsense to incarcerate this man any longer at taxpayers’ expense for $0.96. The prosecutor would not budge. I was dumbfounded!
My intent is not to disparage prosecutors. Understandably, they must follow the law the legislature enacts. In fact, this particular prosecutor is a friend of mine. He probably agreed with me but could not admit it.
The State of Texas spends approximately $50 a day of taxpayers’ money to incarcerate inmates. So in my client’s case, the prosecutor was proposing spending $9125 to incarcerate him for stealing $0.96. This proposal was all the more nonsensical because my client was not a threat to anyone. He was a petty criminal. Had he been a violent career criminal, spending $9125 to take him off the streets would have made sense.
No wonder our nation is $19,000,000,000,000 in debt. We are foolishly spending taxpayers’ dollars to incarcerate nonviolent thieves.
Once again, everyone wants violent offenders in jail and prison. They endanger all of our lives. But, spending tens of thousands of dollars to incarcerate petty, nonviolent career criminals is just plain dumb. Silly, I say!
Why not create alternative programs to ensure this type of petty criminal pays back society in less expensive ways. As a taxpayer, I just don’t want my hard-earned money wasted like that.
Fortunately, the judge in my case intervened and gave my client time served for the two months he had already spent in jail. Two months incarcerated was more than adequate for stealing $0.96.