Viewpoint: A long prison sentence — but at what price?

The recent article [May 1] about Brady Endicott’s sentencing is wrong in stating that Judge Sheryl Bachart “recommended” a sentence of 25 years in the penitentiary. She imposed a sentence of 25 years. The article is correct, however, in saying that she allowed no reduction. For at least one of the charges, she had no choice. Mr. Endicott was convicted of an offense under Measure 11, the “tough on crime” initiative voters approved in 1994. It allows no “good time” or reduction for work release, alternative programs or other incentives. It requires that a mandatory minimum be imposed and served, day for day. The judge also found “substantial and compelling reasons” to deprive Mr. Endicott of those possible reductions, to the extent that she had the authority to do so.

The article is probably also correct in saying that the judge noted Endicott’s time in prison will not provide any help for his addiction or violent behavior. What is chilling, however, is the judge’s comment that, “I don’t think prison will be a positive experience for you…it will probably turn you into a more dangerous person than you are now.”

When the voters approved Measure 11, they were told it would apply to violent offenders, repeat offenders, the worst of the worst. In fact, it applies to all those 15 years or older who commit one of a series of enumerated crimes. A lack of criminal record, the presence of community ties, a supportive family or a need for mental health or addiction treatment makes no difference.

About the same time the measure was passed, the state eliminated funding for many programs designed to provide rehabilitative services in prison. This means that Mr. Endicott — and others like him — will essentially be warehoused at state expense for a quarter century. He will learn survival techniques, be housed with those who may have long criminal histories and will struggle with others who have unaddressed mental health issues. He will learn no skills, be offered no help for his addiction, be given no counseling on anger or interpersonal issues.

Instead, he will learn to cope with guards who treat him as less than human and other inmates with equivalent or more dangerous tendencies. At the end of a quarter century, he will be released, most probably a bitter 72 year old with minimal skills to support himself, probably age-related health issues and most likely intensified anger and interpersonal issues. He will be required to serve a period of post prison supervision during which he will be ordered to undergo drug and alcohol treatment and domestic violence treatment. Because those requirements are to be at his expense, and he will have no job, he is almost inevitably destined for failure.

And at what cost? Figures for 2012 from the State Office of Economic Analysis described the Department of Corrections budget as including over $43,000 for one inmate for one year. Oh, what we could do with $43,000 per year for our students who need good teachers, our homeless who need a warm place to stay and the poor in our community who need regular meals and basic services.

Our legislators have, fortunately, begun to question these costs and this harshness, at least as Measure 11 is applied to younger offenders. SB 1008, recently passed by the full state Senate and now in the House Judiciary Committee, would give judges the option of keeping a young offender in the juvenile system, without the mandatory minimum sentence that offers no education and no treatment. It would provide a “second look” option for those youngsters who have faced a Measure 11 sentence and offer alternatives of compassion and services, where appropriate, and an opportunity for rehabilitation.

What those who want “tough on crime” sentences fail to consider is the financial cost, the human cost and the ultimate cost to our society when these persons like Mr. Endicott are — as they inevitably must be — released from prison. What then? If, indeed, Mr. Endicott is “more dangerous” after 25 years in prison, we have only ourselves to blame. At a cost of over $43,000 per year, none of which is directed toward rehabilitation, we will have made him a monster. And, what then?


Susan Elizabeth Reese is an attorney at law who lives and practices in Newport.


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