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Influential judge advocates for shorter sentences

One of the nation's most influential judges recently spoke out on the subject of incarceration-related sentencing. His position on the subject came to light in a concurrence written in relation to a case involving a defendant sentenced to 50 years for a sex crime.

The defendant in the case was 46 years old at the time he was sentenced for repeated sexual assault and photography of these assaults on a girl who was 11 years old when the offender first initiated his behavior. Though Judge Posner of the 7th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals agreed that the man's appeal should be dismissed, he penned a concurrence in part to discuss the concept of locking an individual away for a significant period of time for a non-homicidal crime.

Judge Posner wrote specifically for an audience of those judges tempted to impose "a super-long sentence" instead of "a merely very long sentence." Posner did not in any way defend the man's actions but simply explained that "I write separately merely to remind the district judges of this circuit of the importance of careful consideration of the wisdom of imposing de facto life sentences. If the defendant in this case does not die in the next 50 years he will be 96 years old when released (though 'only' 89 or 90 if he receives the maximum good-time credits)."

In addition to criticizing the taxpayer cost of such a lengthy sentence, Posner argued that if this individual was released at a hypothetical age of 76, he would be unlikely to re-offend, which is arguably one of the main reasons for keeping a person incarcerated instead of on probation.

Posner singles out elderly prisoners as needing relief from illogically long sentences, but his arguments could be easily applied to the length of incarceration faced by defendants of all ages. Some individuals need to be placed a safe distance from the public if they pose a significant danger to the bodily welfare of others. However, few defendants locked away for 15 years or more meet that criteria.

Source: ABA Journal, "Posner Advises Judges to Consider Cost of Imprisoning Elderly When Imposing a 'Superlong Sentence,'" Debra Cassens Weiss, Dec. 20, 2012

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