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No prision for victimless crimes?

No prision for victimless crimes?

The lord giveth and the lord taketh away, nowhere with more caprice than with the criminal justice system. On the plus side, there are at least a couple of good trends: a tilt from the death penalty (with serious qualifications about the ‘living death” alternative); a move away from imprisonment for victimless crimes — as evidenced by medical marijuana laws; impending reform of the Rockefeller drug laws; Proposition 36 in California, offering treatment alternatives to prison. On the minus side, there are some grim developments. For violent felons, sentencing laws have been getting steadily worse. There have been big increases in sentencing enhancements (time added to your “base sentence” for using a gun, having prior felony convictions, gang-related nature of the crime, hate crime, etc). Some of these enhancements are new; others have been around for a long time but have gotten much more punitive. (There was a heartening victory in California in November with the defeat of Proposition 6, which would have increased penalties for gang-related crimes.) Other bad trends include the growing use of solitary confinement units, the tendency to try juveniles as adults and, of course, the general loss of civil liberties post-9-11 with the ever-moreconservative federal judiciary. This is not to forget the vindictive sex-offender laws that have passed in the last few years. So, the introduction of “living death” — Life Without the Possibility of Parole (LWOP) — as an explicit sentencing possibility can be seen as part of the overall toughening-of-sentences trend for violent criminals, except when it is introduced as an alternative to the death penalty and even here there’s a paradox: There’s much less money and access to the appeals process available in states like California to fight life imprisonment without parole, or with parole for that matter, than there is to fight the death penalty. But the focus on LWOP tends to blur the fact that it is very hard for lifers not doing LWOP to get out on parole, Scott Handleman, an attorney in San Francisco who has spent much time representing prisoners in parole cases, has been helpful with the chastening data: In California, in 2008, there were 31,051 prisoners serving sentences of life with the possibility of parole. Of those, 8,815 have passed their “minimum eligible parole date,” meaning they have served long enough to be receiving parole hearings. Of those, 6,272 had parole hearings on the Board of Parole Hearings calendar in 2008. (Some prisoners past their MEPD do not get hearings in a given year because they were denied for multiple years in a prior hearing.) Of those, only 272 lifers were found suitable for parole by the

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