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Sanford D. Horn | Kaine’s prison plan should be handcuffed

So Virginia Gov. Tim Kaine is interested in letting a few “good” prisoners out of the gray bar hotel 90 days early as a cost-cutting measure claiming they are “nonviolent offenders who have been model inmates” and were due for a 30-day early dismissal, according to an article written by Anthony Barkow of New York.

Barkow, who authored “In Kaine’s Budget Plan, a Reality Check for Prisons,” is executive director of the Center on the Administration of Criminal Law at New York University School of Law. He penned this biased editorial to sing the praises of this early release plan of the nonviolent, noting that “prominent Republicans” with backgrounds in criminal justice policy support this plan, but only names one Republican. Barkow then criticizes the current Virginia attorney general, Bob McDonnell, the presumptive GOP nominee for governor later this year for not marching in lockstep with this less than savory idea.

Meanwhile, in Barkow’s Empire State, the king of the Ponzi Scheme, Bernie Madoff – pronounced Made-off, as in what he did with $50 billion – yes, billion with a “b” in people’s retirements and charitable organizations’ funds, rests easy in his $7 million home, instead of in a prison cell. People nationwide are outraged, and rightfully so, that a lowlife like Madoff is allowed to breathe the air of a free person while countless numbers of people have been bilked out of their life savings and charitable organizations are unable to do the good works they have done for years.

Just because a criminal is nonviolent doesn’t mean he or she shouldn’t be incarcerated. In the case of Madoff, the death penalty is not unreasonable, after all, his misdeeds have inalterably affected the lives of people too old to return to work and certainly could not recoup their losses. Some people have even committed suicide because of the actions of this miscreant.

But back to the Commonwealth of Virginia and down the slippery slope the prison system is about to slide. Barkow claims more than $1 billion is spent annually on incarceration in Virginia and labels tough-on-crime positions “irrational,” suggesting that the nonviolent offender who pose no danger to society not be imprisoned. As is typical of liberals, Barkow offers no suggestion as to his appropriate method of punishment, for although they may be nonviolent, they are still convicts.

Barkow also suggests that to continue to incarcerate the nonviolent offenders, schools and additional police on the streets will lose funding. Of course those scare tactics are exactly what he has in mind. Instead of calling for an to pork-barrel spending and a diminution of special-interest funding, which would make the most sense, Barkow wants to instill fear in the hearts and minds of the citizenry in order to garner support for a lame-brained idea.

There’s a reason Republicans like former governor and senator George Allen pushed hard for no parole in Virginia. When a criminal is sentenced to a term of 10 years, for example, he or she serves that amount of time. There should not be early release for good behavior. Instead, there should be extended sentences for bad behavior. Stricter sentences should be the order of the day, not more lenient sentences.

Barkow went so far as to praise Kaine as a governor with “guts” for telling “people that the criminal justice system has gone too far.” Well, to be fair, Barkow is right – the criminal justice system has gone too far, just not in the way he thinks or in the right direction.

Prison should not be a pleasant experience for any inmate – white collar, blue collar or ministerial collar. Since when do prisoners have a constitutional right to cable or any television, for that matter. Weight rooms? Athletic equipment? Gone. If prisoners don’t want their muscles to atrophy, don’t commit crimes and end up in the clink. There’s some money saved as well. Strip these prisons down to their bare bones minimum. Prisoners ought to live like minimalists – smaller cells allow for more prisoners to be housed. If a prisoner wants books, newspapers or other reading material, let them procure it from the outside when family or friends visit. No more computers, radios or other electronic luxuries – after all prison is just that, and not summer camp.

Busy prisoners ought to be productive prisoners learning trades such as carpentry, plumbing, cooking, even first aid skills, all of which are marketable on the outside upon release having served their entire sentences. Any prisoner with a skill or a talent can teach other inmates.

Gov. Kaine would be wise to procure a page out Sheriff Joe Arpaio’s playbook. Known around the country as “America’s Toughest Sheriff,” he runs the force in Maricopa County Ariz., where there are both male and female chain gangs, prisoners painting over graffiti, cleaning the streets and even burying the indigent. Inside the prison Arpaio is known to have the cheapest meals in the United States – averaging roughly 15 cents and the inmates are only fed twice a day.

Now before all the ACLUeless attorneys get their briefs in a twist, once again, for those prisoners who object, don’t become a criminal. They make their choices and those choices come with consequences. There’s a boatload of money to be saved and trimmed from the budget without violating anyone’s rights or giving free passes to nonviolent offenders.

While on the budget-trimming subject, any non-indigent sentenced must pay a fine and the money goes in the education and/or transportation coffers. Illegals should not be put in American prisons, but instead, deported to their country of origin. Notice, I do not say illegals who have committed a crime, because once they have taken that first illegal step on American soil, they have broken the law. And for those white collar criminals who have stolen from investors, raided pension funds, bilked charities, all their assets should be liquidated in order to make some form of remuneration to the victims. They may be non-violent, but their crimes certainly are not victimless and they do deserve to fulfill their reservations at the gray bar hotel – sans room service.


Sanford D. Horn is a writer and political consultant living in Alexandria.

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