USA TODAY rejects prisoner’s letter because he’s a sex offender
By Phil Wentzel . . . As a former law enforcement professional and now one of the millions of incarcerated adults in the U.S., I can relate very personally to two items I read in the October 22, 2015 USA TODAY. It is encouraging to see that a group of respected law enforcement leaders and prosecutors have formed a coalition calling for an end to mass incarceration. These professionals should be commended for their courage to stand up to the current status quo in the American criminal justice system: lock ’em up and throw away the key. Mr. McCarthy and Mr. Serpas’ piece “Policing The USA” was also a breath of fresh air. These gentlemen are truly forward thinking leaders who deserve support for their bold stance. When people like me…educated professionals with no criminal history whatsoever, who committed a non-violent first offense are sentenced to the same prison terms as repeat violent offenders, people should stand up and demand change. When sentencing is not based on empirical research, but hysteria and a need for vengeance, far too many of us are caught in the dragnet and far too many families and lives are ruined. Despite being a non-violent first time offender, I, and many like me, have been imprisoned in high security penitentiaries at a cost to the taxpayer of over $30,000 PER YEAR, PER INMATE. When so many modern alternatives to incarceration exist, how can anyone justify this? Don’t get me wrong, what I did demands punishment, but the punishment must fit the crime and the individual. The system I once so proudly represented has gone too far and is desperately broken. Bravo to those in this coalition who have true standing to say the U.S. “over-criminalizes,” “over-punishes” and needs LESS incarceration. As Congress and President Obama finally begin to implement some meaningful criminal justice reform, it is important that these changes not just include the most politically “safe” low level drug offenders (oddly, one of the offender groups MOST likely to re-offend), but ALL offenders. Vermont Senator and Democratic presidential candidate Bernie Sanders recently introduced the “Justice Is Not For Sale 2015” bill in the Senate. It has not garnered a lot of attention, but it needs to be supported for it’s bold, inclusive and honest reforms, especially the responsible and effective restoration of federal parole. As noted by Messrs. McCarthy and Serpas, and well known by those such as myself, one of the offender types LEAST likely to re-offend and MOST responsive to treatment, having the world’s largest incarceration rate, costing taxpayers over $80 BILLION annually is no longer the answer. We must find financially responsible ways to do better. We must not continue to pass on the unsustainable financial burden of a broken system to the very people we wish to protect the most – our children. These law enforcement officials are definitely on the right track.