Crime and Sentencing

By Barney Blakeney

I get crime reports all the time. So much, I’m concerned about becoming desensitized. I’m seldom surprised at what I get.

But for some reason a report other day that some 17-year-old kid received a 30-year sentence stuck in my craw. The report said the kid must do 85 percent of the sentence before becoming eligible for parole.

It seems the sentenced kid and another kid at gunpoint robbed some fast food restaurant employee as the employee left work. They took the woman’s car. Of course they were caught.

The cops apparently tried to flip one kid against the other who had the gun. While in jail the sentenced kid tried to intimidate the other kid with threats against the other kid and his family. The cops found out about it, still, the other kid backed off. But the court made the sentenced kid pay – gave him a bunch of time!

From what I gathered, the sentenced kid was a bad lil dude. Although only 17, he seemed to have a hardness about him that was apparent even reading the press release. I’ve seen some young thugs, mean people, who by very early ages have become so brutal and hardened they’re scary. I’ve read about some kids whose rap sheets made me think the only place for them was behind bars. Although I know better, I wanted to think they were unsalvageable.

But the sentenced kid I read about was different. His story evoked compassion in me. I’m not good at math, but 85 percent of 30 years is a long time – at least 25 years! That kid will grow into manhood in prison. He’ll come out of jail a 40-year-old man shaped by a system that’s more structured to retain than rehab. That kid’s going to have to be on point and stay focused if he wants to turn this experience into something positive. It could happen. There are a lot of guys in jail who might take the kid under their wings, teach him not only how to survive, but how to overcome. If not, I hate to think who will be the man who is returned to our community.

 So I figured I write another of my preachin’ columns – one that admonishes young people to get right. That white man ain’t playing wit’ chall!

As I looked for the press release on the sentenced kid, I ran across two others – one was about a 30-year-old burglar who got 15 years, another about a man sentenced to life without parole for one robbery and the second attempted robbery of the same victim. This thing about going after a victim a second time must be a trend.

Got this report from North Charleston police spokesman Spencer Pryor: “On August 14, officers were dispatched in reference to shots being fired. Responding officers heard gunfire as they approached the location and saw the suspect vehicle roll backwards into a yard then flee the scene. Officers canvassed the area and located an adult male victim lying in the yard suffering from a gunshot wound. The victim was pronounced dead on scene.

“During the search for the suspects, officers received a call about a vehicle traveling on the opposite side of Dorchester road.  A chase ensued and the suspects crashed into four vehicles and fled on foot in the Forest Hills 2 neighborhood. After an extensive search two male suspects were apprehended. A 17-year-old and a 20-year-old male were taken into custody.”

An ongoing investigation revealed the pair had robbed the deceased victim previously. Stolen in the first robbery were the victim’s car keys. The pair returned August 14 to steal the victim’s car. When the victim came out with a gun and fired two shots as a warning he was shot, Pryor said. Them boys in trouble! What I guess may have been two greedy dummies trying to get something for nothing turned into a murder.

Years ago as I reached mature adulthood and watched our community inundated with teen pregnancies, we used to say they were, “Babies having babies.” Well, a baby can’t teach nobody nothin’. So we had babies having babies who couldn’t teach their babies anything. That second generation of babies had babies and the ignorance was perpetuated.

Because none of ‘em knew anything, rap songs with meaningless lyrics and movies with pointless themes taught them a culture of sex and violence they could emulate. We allowed an entertainment system whose only concern is profit to teach our children. And what have we gotten?

According to the Sentencing Project’s website, 53 percent of state prison populations in the U.S. are violent offenders. About 50 percent of federal prison populations are drug offenders. And in the U.S. which has the world’s largest incarcerated population, more than 60 percent of the people in prison today are people of color. Black men are nearly six times as likely to be incarcerated as white men and Hispanic men are 2.3 times as likely. For black men in their thirties, 1 in every 10 is in prison or jail on any given day. There’s a reason – mo’ money, mo’ money, mo’ money.

A 2016 Moneywatch article By AIMEE PICCHI said, “Incarceration has become a profit center for companies ranging from private prison operators to telecom companies … the private prison industry may represent only the most visible part of a growing trend to sell services and goods to prisons and jails.

Phone companies, for instance, charge rates as high as $1 a minute for calls to people behind bars, creating a $1 billion industry. Providing health care to inmates has also become a privatized billion-dollar business. Even financial services companies have gotten into the business by selling “release cards,” or pre-paid debit cards (with high fees) that are given to inmates when they are discharged, rather than the traditional check or cash.”

I asked Charleston County Chief Deputy Sheriff Mitch Lucas what he thinks. Here’s what he said: “I don’t know the particulars of the case you are speaking of, but 17-year-old defendants do receive some pretty long sentences.  As far as arresting our way out of societal ills, I still hold the opinion (that we can’t) for violent crimes, as well as drug offenses and others.  I believe a 14 year old was just arrested for murdering two people, who were not much older, as were the others involved in the case.

“I grew up in a large housing project and saw all kinds of crime, but I never had the opportunity to possess a handgun. I think we need to focus on teaching young people better values and the sanctity of life. I don’t think that more laws and gun restrictions will keep guns out of the hands of criminals or young people wanting to be criminals. Additionally, I have seen no studies that show that long prison sentences are an effective deterrent to any crimes.

At some point we have to ask ourselves:  Do we want to continue to be reactive to this problem, or do we want to actually try to solve the problem?  When I say “we” I mean all of us.  The solution to violent crimes and other societal problems will not be found in government at any level.  We have to want it more than we do now.”


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