Monday, August 04, 2008

Reporting Jail Sentences

Responding to Tom Young, who complains,

> Every Canadian besides them understands that a 20 month jail sentence in this country means nowhere near 20 months in jail.

Yes, but so what? Aside from catching some reporter on some meaningless semantics, what's the point of this complaint?

This is what I don't get about this whole foo fraw about prison sentences. The people who know best what '20 months' means in terms of actual time served are the judges who issue the sentences.

20 months will probably be 13 months or so. The judge knows this. Which means when a sentence of 20 months is passed, there is no illusion about how much time will be served. The only people outraged seem to be those who do not understand how the system works. And why should we even worry about the opinions of those who, after so many years, still haven't fugured it out?

So the sentence is '20 months'. The time served will be 13 months. The question we as citizens ask is whether 13 months is adequate. The comparison between 13 months and 20 months is irrelevant and ill-informed. It means nothing, because *nobody* would suppose there was ever any intent to have the man serve 20 months.

Or, to put the same point another way, *if* we enacted legislation that said people must serve the exact amount of time sentenced, then the same judge who felt 13 months in prison was appropriate, and hence passed a sentence of 20 months, would now simply pass a sentence of 13 months.

The only effect of such a change would be to deprive corrections officials of some form of leverage - early release - with which to induce good behaviour. If 13 months meant 13 months no matter what the prisoner did, there would be no reason to take programs, speak to a counselor, or even to obey orders.

If you believe that 13 months is too short a sentence for the offense, then you should simply come out and say so. Clouding the issue with some fuzzy thinking about sentencing does not forward the discussion.

1 comment:

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