Does the punishment always fit the crime?

Travis McMullen - Contributing Columnist

Travis McMullen

Contributing Columnist

There’s a lot of bad news out there, but I read a story recently that should make all of us feel a little better.

On Monday morning, Sedalia’s own Jeff Mizanskey, 62, received word that he would soon be paroled. In 1993, Mizanskey was arrested, prosecuted and thrown in jail for life because he was merely adjacent to a drug deal involving about five pounds of marijuana. All right, so there are differing accounts of just how much involvement he had in the transaction, but in any case he was arrested and he did get his third strike and he did receive a life sentence.

Instituting a “three strikes” law was the hip new thing for states to do in the mid ’90s where three crimes of at least felony status opened up the possibility of putting the offender away for life. Many non-violent offenders were put away under these statutes and found themselves serving life sentences alongside murderers and rapists.

We live in an America where we are quickly beginning to rethink the way we’ve been approaching the war on drugs. We live in an America where a majority of people support the legalization of marijuana. We live in an America where it would be hypocritical to allow the dispensary owner in Colorado to live and thrive as a semi-legitimate businessman while there are people in jail all over the country for possessing and maybe intending to distribute marijuana. “Intent to distribute” probably shouldn’t depend solely on the amount of a certain drug that you’re carrying — maybe they were just stocking up.

If the legalization dominoes continue to fall, we’re going to have to look at the records of some of the people we have incarcerated and we’re going to have to start the process of releasing them for the sake of fairness.

America has one of the highest incarceration rates on Earth and it seems like each day we’re finding new ways to put people away for victimless crimes. Are marijuana dealers breaking current state law? Well, yeah. Are they repeat offenders? Well, some of them are. I’m not saying that we should release all of them today. But a life sentence for selling or buying pot? I just don’t know about that.

It costs a lot of money to keep people in jail. A study published by the Vera Institute of Justice called “The Price of Prisons” reported that it cost $31,307 to incarcerate an inmate in 2010 fiscal year. Rest assured it has only gone up from there. That’s our money — city money, state money and federal money that is flowing into the prison industrial complex and mostly filling the pockets of high-ranking officials in private companies with names like “Corrections Corporation of America,” “Management and Training Corporation,” “Community Education Centers” and “The GEO Group Inc.” Yeah, “Community Education Centers” is a funny name for a company that operates 14 jails.

It is encouraging to see Mizanskey is finally receiving his parole. I am not saying he shouldn’t have done any time at all, because he did commit his crimes when they were still crimes. But 20-plus years of prime human life seems like more than enough time served for the offenses he committed.

Travis McMullen is a longtime Sedalia resident who shares his views on the city through his weekly Democrat column.

Sedalia Democrat

Travis McMullen is a longtime Sedalia resident who shares his views on the city through his weekly Democrat column.

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