Cost of Elderly Prisoners: Double Crime Undone

Posted: July 6, 2012 in News and politics

Judge John Skinner was right two years ago, when he said that sentencing Ronald Thompson — an elderly, ailing veteran — to 20 years in prison was “a crime in itself.” Skinner sits on the 4th Circuit Court.

Actually, this was a double crime: A crime against Thompson — of Keystone Heights, northeast of Gainesville — and a crime against Florida taxpayers.

With a ruling by 4th Circuit Judge Don Lester on Wednesday that the jury instructions were faulty in his trial two years ago, he was set free.

Given his time served and his ill health, and the case, there is no need for another trial.

Thompson, 65, has been in prison for illegally discharging a firearm (no one was actually shot) during a neighborhood dispute. Skinner originally sentenced Thompson to three years, but that was overturned because Florida’s draconian sentencing laws dictate a mandatory 20-year sentence for a firearms offense.

“Thompson is nearly blind, diabetic and has had multiple heart surgeries,” The Gainesville Sun reported June 15. “In the past few years, since being imprisoned, he has had surgery on his prostate and to remove tumors from his face.”

Thompson’s only previous crime: A DUI more than a decade earlier.

 

COSTLY POLICY

The cost of caring for elderly prisoners now runs to more than $16 billion a year, said the American Civil Liberties Union in a recent report.

“Extremely disproportionate sentencing policies, fueled by the ‘tough on crime’ and ‘war on drugs’ movements, have turned our prisons into nursing homes, and taxpayers are footing the bill,” said Inimai Chettiar, a lead author of the report. “Lawmakers need to implement reforms that lead to the release of those elderly prisoners who no longer pose a safety threat sufficient to justify their continued incarceration and reform our sentencing policies to prevent this epidemic at the outset.”

That’s good advice. The Pew Center on the States released a study this month showing that Florida’s get-tough sentencing laws cost Florida taxpayers an additional $1.4 billion in correctional costs in 2009 alone.

Locking an elderly, ailing man away for 20 years for a crime in which no one was injured was indeed a crime — against Ronald Thompson and the taxpayers.

<!–Judge John Skinner was right two years ago, when he said that sentencing Ronald Thompson — an elderly, ailing veteran — to 20 years in prison was "a crime in itself." Skinner sits on the 4th Circuit Court.

Actually, this was a double crime: A crime against Thompson — of Keystone Heights, northeast of Gainesville — and a crime against Florida taxpayers.

With a ruling by 4th Circuit Judge Don Lester on Wednesday that the jury instructions were faulty in his trial two years ago, he was set free.

Given his time served and his ill health, and the case, there is no need for another trial.

Thompson, 65, has been in prison for illegally discharging a firearm (no one was actually shot) during a neighborhood dispute. Skinner originally sentenced Thompson to three years, but that was overturned because Florida's draconian sentencing laws dictate a mandatory 20-year sentence for a firearms offense.

"Thompson is nearly blind, diabetic and has had multiple heart surgeries," The Gainesville Sun reported June 15. "In the past few years, since being imprisoned, he has had surgery on his prostate and to remove tumors from his face."

Thompson's only previous crime: A DUI more than a decade earlier.

 

COSTLY POLICY

The cost of caring for elderly prisoners now runs to more than $16 billion a year, said the American Civil Liberties Union in a recent report.

“Extremely disproportionate sentencing policies, fueled by the ‘tough on crime’ and ‘war on drugs’ movements, have turned our prisons into nursing homes, and taxpayers are footing the bill,” said Inimai Chettiar, a lead author of the report. “Lawmakers need to implement reforms that lead to the release of those elderly prisoners who no longer pose a safety threat sufficient to justify their continued incarceration and reform our sentencing policies to prevent this epidemic at the outset.”

That’s good advice. The Pew Center on the States released a study this month showing that Florida’s get-tough sentencing laws cost Florida taxpayers an additional $1.4 billion in correctional costs in 2009 alone.

Locking an elderly, ailing man away for 20 years for a crime in which no one was injured was indeed a crime — against Ronald Thompson and the taxpayers.

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