Missouri judges now have more to consider when they sentence a criminal: the cost of the punishment.
This interesting article by Monica Davey of the New York Times discusses a controversial new rule in the Show Me State.
Supporters say it’s another tool for judges to more effectively weigh punishments. Critics claim there is no way to put a price tag on the cost of crime, particularly those it harms.
For someone convicted of endangering the welfare of a child, for instance, a judge might now learn that a three-year prison sentence would run more than $37,000 while probation would cost $6,770. A second-degree robber, a judge could be told, would carry a price tag of less than $9,000 for five years of intensive probation, but more than $50,000 for a comparable prison sentence and parole afterward. The bill for a murderer’s 30-year prison term: $504,690.
It’s an interesting approach and seems particularly up for discussion in a state that has the highest female incarceration rate in the country. Not to mention a state corrections department struggling to make things work on a severely trimmed budget.
Read the story here and share your thoughts.
Update: On Tuesday, Aug. 17, a federal judge granted a third stay of execution for Jeffrey Matthews. This time the stay was based on a substitute sedative being used in Oklahoma’s lethal injection method.
A hearing has been set for Oct. 15 and a new execution date, if one is allowed, will be determined after that hearing.
In Thursday’s (Aug. 12) Oklahoman, I had an article on a clemency request of death-row inmate Jeffrey David Matthews, who is set for lethal injection on Tuesday. Since then the request for an unprecedented second clemency hearing has been denied. The state Attorney General’s Office laid out their argument against such a hearing in a letter to the pardon and parole board.
I first wrote about Matthews’ case in July with the article “Los Angeles actress, model fights for Oklahoma death row inmate’s freedom.” That article has links to many videos and documents that can give you background on the case, as well as a link to Victoria Redstall’s website. I have not been in touch with Redstall since that article.
But, I have received numerous inquiries from national media outlets about the case. I’ve been happy to help other journalist cover this story. I’m a firm believer that an execution must be covered. It’s the highest form of punishment the law allows and should receive the media’s full attention.
An unexpected response to that first article came from the condemned man himself. In a letter, “response to article by Michael Baker of Oklahoman,” sent to both The Oklahoman and The Tulsa World, Matthews compares himself to the tag line for the movie “Absence of Malice,” “Supposed you picked up this morning’s newspaper and your life was a front page headline… And everything they said was accurate… But none of it was true.”
I guess this comparison would make me Sally Field. Hmmm… Maybe we shouldn’t take the comparison too far.
If you read his letter, linked to above, you should make sure you also read the AG’s letter to the pardon and parole board and a letter the prosecutors sent to the Gov. Brad Henry. And remember the the two victims, Otis Short and his wife, Minnie, whose throat was slashed during the robbery and was forced to lay motionless next to her dead husband as her home was robbed.
I think as citizens, and certainly as a journalist, it’s important to know as much as possible about a case before the state’s harshest punishment is carried out.
Good Monday from OPUBCO HQ, where I’m wondering what to watch on TV now that the Olympics no longer dominate the prime-time slots.
Here’s a look at what you might have missed from our Watchdog team over the weekend:
–Reporter Sonya Colberg took a look at a proposed law to tighten up the educational requirements for drug and alcohol counselors in Oklahoma. It’s a complicated issue, because on one side you’ve got counselors with great life experience who might leave the profession if they have to get master’s degrees. On the other side is the state Mental Health and Substance Abuse Services’ effort to increase the professionalization of the counselors in Oklahoma.
–Randy Ellis explored one lawmaker’s efforts to revamp the state’s foster care system. Rep. Gus Blackwell, R-Goodwell, is looking to Florida as a possible model to privatize Oklahoma’s foster care.
–It’s Oscar week, so I had story explaining how film producers are using the state’s film rebate and a separate tax credit to recoup up to 49 percent of their qualified movie making expenditures in Oklahoma. With the state budget crunch, the tax credit part of that incentive package might hit the cutting room floor.
–Finally, Ellis had interviews with both of the people involved in a dispute in Lindsay involving the mayor.
–Tulsa had some problems with concrete falling off an Interstate 44 bridge last week. The Tulsa World‘s Data Editor Gavin Off asked the state Transportation Department for a database of damage claims against the state. What he found is that it’s fairly easy to file a claim, but a lot harder to actually get the money.
–The Associated Press had a comprehensive story on the latest efforts by state lawmakers to expand exemptions to the Oklahoma Open Records Act, closing off public access to things like public employees’ dates of birth, information from the state’s Film Office and autopsy reports.
–Detroit is losing thousands of people in the wake of the recession, but its new mayor isn’t losing hope. He’s pursuing a new strategy of “smaller is better,” a rarity among mayors who typically tout grand projects. The Wall Street Journal has more on the story:
Unlike his predecessors, Mr. Bing, a Democrat first elected last year to finish the term of disgraced former Mayor Kwame Kilpatrick, hasn’t touted big development plans or talked of a “renaissance.” Instead, he is trying to prepare residents for a new reality: that Detroit—like the auto industry that propelled it for a century—will have to get smaller before it gets bigger again.
–Oklahoma has its own long-running lawsuit over poultry waste. Today, the Washington Post delved into the larger issues surrounding industrial farming and the most basic of byproducts. Oklahoma gets a mention:
Despite its impact, manure has not been as strictly regulated as more familiar pollution problems, like human sewage, acid rain or industrial waste. The Obama administration has made moves to change that but already has found itself facing off with farm interests, entangled in the contentious politics of poop.
In recent months, Oklahoma has battled poultry companies from Arkansas in court, blaming their birds’ waste for slimy and deadened rivers downstream. In Florida, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency proposed first-of-their-kind limits on pollutants found in manure.
–Finally, The New York Times had its own pollution story in Sunday’s paper. This one looked at the difficulty of establishing jurisdiction in pollution cases involving the Clean Water Act.
The Chicago Tribune recently looked at the the plight of juvenile sex offenders who names soon could be added to public registries.
This story features a 19-year-old who was convicted of a sex crime five years earlier.
“Tim, who asked that his last name not be disclosed, said he was rejected by military recruiters and a college admissions office after he informed them of his history. And he is concerned that a year from now, a federal law might cause his full name, photo and address to be displayed on the Internet, just like adult sex offenders,” wrote Tribune reporter John Keilman.
The article also has insight from University of Oklahoma psychologist Barbara Bonner, who treats teenage sex offenders.
The Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department has stopped testing DNA evidence in thousands of sexual assault cases because it is out of money, the Los Angeles Times reports.
The sheriff says he can no longer afford to send evidence to private labs to be analyzed, leaving thousands of cases in jeopardy unless more money becomes available.
Marcia Robinson Lowry, executive director of Children’s Rights, said the audit documents some of the problems cited in a federal lawsuit the group filed in Tulsa last year.
The lawsuit seeks to fix the state’s foster care system, which attorneys claim is broken.
Lowry said the audit shows the state Department of Human Services needs significant reform.
Children’s Rights wants to turn its lawsuit, filed on behalf of nine children in foster care, into a class-action case for all children in state custody.
A federal judge in Tulsa will hear arguments on the matter March 30.
I got an interesting e-mail Thursday after writing a story about embezzlement allegations against a former Chickasha employee, who was not prosecuted after she agreed to pay restitution to the city.
A reader in Midwest City applauded the move as an alternative to throwing another person into Oklahoma’s crowded prison system, a result that likely would have made it difficult or impossible for the city to collect restitution.
An excerpt of David Hanson’s thoughts on the issue:
There must be some way for an individual to pay restitution and have a “non criminal” record that shows his/her desire to admit to a mistake and take responsibility for their actions. Maybe this could be accomplished by making restitution and signing a official document making this incident “legal evidence” in any future criminal activity. I know this strategy needs to be examined in detail, but maybe it is a start.
I hope someone will continue to pursue other ways to solve problems, not only in city government, but for our country as well.
Chickasha officials have decided the decision not to forward former court clerk Debbie Pool’s case to prosecutors was made in the city’s best interest, but directed CIty Manager Larry Shelton to notify the district attorney’s office if a municipal employee is suspected of a crime in the future.
What do you think? Did Chickasha officials handle things the right way or should they have allowed the criminal justice system to have the final say?
It’s hard to keep track of everything going on in our fair state, so most reporters build a network of sources and other contacts to help.
One of my favorite resources as a former criminal justice reporter is attorney Jim Hankins’ Web site, Oklahoma Criminal Defense Weekly.
Hankins, whom I first met many years ago while I was working, is well versed in criminal law as a trial lawyer and advocate for death row inmates.
He gave me one of his business cards after I moved to The Oklahoman in 2005. It included a link to his site, which has become a regular stop for me in my work-related Web surfing.
Hankins’ site includes a “Victories” section to publicize cases won by his peers and a “Hearsay” section for legal stories of interest.
I’ve gotten several stories ideas from the site, including this one.