Guest Column: 21 years and 10 months

I sat in disbelief on Friday, April 29. I watched a man get sentenced to 262 months in the Bureau of Prisons. For those of you who don’t know, 262 months is 21 years and 10 months, during which he will have to serve 85 percent of his time. He pled guilty to conspiracy to sell cocaine, or a cocaine base. If he wouldn’t have pled guilty and taken it to trial, and lost at trial, he would have received life in prison. The federal government has a 98.9 percent conviction rate. His co-defendant in the crime is expected to receive 25 years in the Bureau of Prisons while the other co-defendant received a downward departure for his cooperation with the government.

Earlier on in the week, I read about a man on trial for murder. He accepted a bench trial over a jury trial. The reason was if he gets found guilty, he can’t receive a sentence greater than 20 years, of which he will receive good time, and parole. This non-violent offender, 21 years and 10 months, violent offender, no more than 20 years. Better yet, let’s talk about the sex offender who was in the Ogle County Jail with him. He received 10 years for raping. Did I mention it wasn’t his first offense?

Non-violent offender, 21 years and 10 months, violent offender, 10 years.

The judge also ordered this non-violent offender a fine and stated he was sure this man would get a job while incarcerated. That’s funny because the starting salary in the Bureau of Prisons is $5.20 a month. Yet, it’s going to cost around $588,000 to incarcerate this man for 21 years. Who is paying for it? The taxpayers and grant funding.

On Sunday, April 24, the Department of Justice issued its statistics showing that violent crime fell by more than 33 percent between 1994-2003. Property crimes fell by 23 percent. The statistics also showed that 12.6 percent of black males in their late 20s were behind bars. The comparable rate for Hispanic males was 3.6 percent and for whites 1.6 percent.

However, prison population continues to rise in the U.S. Why is that? Non-violent drug crimes. Most people incarcerated on drug crimes are there for conspiracy. Most of them weren’t caught in the act of the crime.

Conspiracy is when two or more come together to commit a crime. That crime doesn’t necessarily have to be carried out. One person can change his mind about the crime. Yet, if the others carry it out and get caught, the one who backed out and changed his mind is still guilty. Why are they guilty? Because they didn’t notify a law enforcement agency that the crime was taking place? Also found guilty on the same conspiracy are mothers and fathers, sisters and brothers, wives and girlfriends. Yes, if you don’t tell law enforcement agencies that your loved one was involved in a crime, you can easily be incarcerated for years. Is it happening? Yes, every day. More women have been incarcerated because of the War on Drugs than ever before, with African-Americans leading the way with the highest incarceration rate.

How this works is one person gets caught in the act, or in possession of a controlled substance. In return for becoming a witness for the state or government, he or she receives a downward departure. In other words, for becoming a snitch, he or she receives a lesser sentence.

The estimated $588,000 used in incarcerating him could be used to educate him, and provide employment to enable him to provide for his children over the next 20 years.

How can our community change and we attack the truancy problem in our city, if we don’t get to the root of the problem? The root of the problem is family. So with parents incarcerated, children are placed in foster homes that don’t provide love, just a roof over their heads, and a check for the foster parents. The results are children growing up becoming violent offenders, not graduating from high school. They don’t have love for themselves, let alone the law. So when violent crimes start to rise again, don’t ask the “why” question. Just think about all the non-violent offenders who were locked up for years. They couldn’t be there to keep their children from making the same mistakes they made, so in return, they make even bigger mistakes.

It is time we start contacting our elected officials letting them know we want change. That change begins with Rep. Donald Manzullo, 415 S. Mulford Rd., Rockford, IL 61108. The other elected officials are Sen. Richard Durbin, 230 S. Dearborn St., Chicago, IL 60604. Sen. Barack Obama, 230 S. Dearborn St., Chicago, IL 60604.

From the May 25-31, 2005, issue

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