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For lesser crimes, rethinking life behind bars

Published: Wednesday, July 29 2015 7:39 a.m. MDT

The Utah State Prison is shown with housing developments in the background in Draper Wednesday, June 13, 2012. (Brian Nicholson, Deseret News) The Utah State Prison is shown with housing developments in the background in Draper Wednesday, June 13, 2012. (Brian Nicholson, Deseret News)

Our take: Could mass incarceration for non-violent offenses actually promote crime instead of suppressing it? Some social scientists "argue that the incarceration rate is now so high that the net effect is 'crimogenic': creating more crime over the long term by harming the social fabric in communities and permanently damaging the economic prospects of prisoners as well as their families." John Tierney, in a recent New York Times column, analyzes who is currently incarcerated and argues that the current system must be changed.

TALLAHASSEE, Fla. — Stephanie George and Judge Roger Vinson had quite different opinions about the lockbox seized by the police from her home in Pensacola. She insisted she had no idea that a former boyfriend had hidden it in her attic. Judge Vinson considered the lockbox, containing a half-kilogram of cocaine, to be evidence of her guilt.

But the defendant and the judge fully agreed about the fairness of the sentence he imposed in federal court.

“Even though you have been involved in drugs and drug dealing,” Judge Vinson told Ms. George, “your role has basically been as a girlfriend and bag holder and money holder but not actively involved in the drug dealing, so certainly in my judgment it does not warrant a life sentence.”

Yet the judge had no other option on that morning 15 years ago. As her stunned family watched, Ms. George, then 27, who had never been accused of violence, was led from the courtroom to serve a sentence of life without parole.

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