Sentence Inflation

In the early 20th Century Lincoln Steffens taught us how to boost newspaper sales by manufacturing a crime wave.

In the 1970's Nelson Rockefeller showed politicians how to win elections by capitalizing on a crime wave. Murder, rape and robbery have been with us as long as we've taken breath, enjoyed sex and owned property. Penalties were already ancient in biblical days. But voters handsomely rewarded Rockefeller for draconian increases in those long established sentences.

Subsequent generations of politicians payed attention. Year after year legislators introduced bills to increase penalties that had been increased just the year before and the year before that. And every campaign commercial and brochure trumpeted the candidates' successful crime fight.

Eventually budget writers woke up to the cost to build and staff new prisons. Bills proposing increased sentences were slapped with a price tag and sponsors had to find the funds to pay for their proposal or watch it die. But by the time I got to the legislature two generations of sentence inflation was already on the books.

Beth McCann was the first legislator I worked with who actually started slaying this dragon. As a freshman, she proposed reducing a small basket of sentences and got her bill passed. The budget folks calculated how much this would save in future prison costs. Beth was gracious enough to allow me to use some of those savings for one of my bills (if a guy that owes criminal restitution wins big at a casino, the money should go to his victims - $200k to program the computers).

Now Beth is running for Denver District Attorney. She started her career as a deputy Denver D.A. Later she served as Denver's Manager of Safety (hires and fires the Chief of Police). She has the basic tools for the job. More to the point, she understands that more isn't necessarily better. Smarter is better.

That's why I voted for Beth. Tuesday is the last day to turn in your primary ballot.