Are Jail Sentences a Real Deterrent?

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(credit: CBS)

(credit: CBS)

Dominic Dezzutti By Dominic Dezzutti
CBSDenver.com Blogger
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Two very different glimpses into the American judicial system emerged this week, putting the idea if jail sentences deter future criminals.

First of all, an 84 year old nun and peace activist was sentenced to three years in prison in Nashville, Tennessee for breaking into a U.S. Nuclear Weapons Complex a few years ago and causing superficial damage to a bunker holding weapons-grade uranium.

Her fellow peace activists, each with criminal records, received more than five years in prison, so I guess, technically, the 84 year old nun received a light sentence.

The reasoning used by the prosecuting U.S. Attorney was that he did not want to be lenient and possibly encourage other activists.

On the other side of the judicial universe, here in Colorado, a man accused of killing an 11 year old boy in a hit and run incident reportedly admitted to police he was racing a motorcycle when the accident occurred. The incident is part of a seemingly growing epidemic in Colorado of hit and runs on our city streets.

I’ve never served on a jury and obviously we do not know all of the details of the incident, but I wonder if any of the people who will serve on this person’s jury will consider how a sentence could possibly be a deterrent to future drivers when approaching their judgment.

The U.S. Attorney in Nashville thinks that prison sentences indeed are or why would he send an 84 year old peace activist nun to three years in prison? He is convinced that when future peace activists consider breaking into a nuclear facility, they will think about the nun serving three years for her crime.

I’m not a legal expert, but I cannot help but wonder if that U.S. Attorney is a naïve optimist to think that future criminals will be deterred by what prison term a nun will serve in Tennessee.

Then again, if that U.S. Attorney is right, is it time for some hit and run drivers in Colorado to get the book thrown at them? Would that deter future hit and run drivers? If there is even a chance, then I think there would be widespread public support for draconian sentences for guilty drivers.

I cannot imagine that the hit and run epidemic in Colorado will be solved with one simple idea of longer sentences for those found guilty. But it will be interesting to see how prosecuting attorneys begin to address the issue. Perhaps they will begin to seek harsher punishments. Perhaps many believe that the solutions do not lie in the punishment.

Regardless, at some point, we must answer the question and be honest with ourselves. To do otherwise is not only avoiding justice, but also jeopardizes the future safety of our community.

Dominic Dezzutti’s Latest Blog Entries

About The Blogger

- Dominic Dezzutti, producer of the Colorado Decides debate series, a co-production of CBS4 and Colorado Public Television, looks at the local and national political scene in his CBSDenver.com blog. Read new entries here usually every Monday, Wednesday and Friday. Dezzutti writes about federal, state and local matters and how our elected leaders are handling the issues important to Colorado. Dezzutti is also the host and producer of the Emmy award winning Colorado Inside Out on Colorado Public Television.

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