Being faced with charges of a sex-related crime can be a devastating experience. Even the allegations of such criminal behavior can significantly damage a person's reputation, career and family. Because of the social stigma attached to sex crimes, a conviction can result in requests for extensive prison sentences.
But are these so-called "superlong" sentences necessary? And are they even effective? One judge in Chicago has raised these questions and argues that sentencing an older sex offender is both ineffective and costly.
The judge noted some strong statistics in favor of his position. In terms of cost, it is estimated that it costs up to $70,000 to house an inmate for a year. The person in jail may also receive Medicare and other benefits when they are imprisoned. Once a person is released from prison, however, he or she will likely get a job and put money back into the economy. The longer a person is in jail, the less likely it becomes that he or she will be able to make that type of contribution.
In regards to the efficacy of sending older people to prison for 50 years or more, the fact is that many of these people are statistically unlikely to recommit a crime after the age of 60. In fact, just over one percent of people who have committed crimes against children reoffend after the age of 60. For those over 70, that number declines further.
Imposing what the judge calls de facto life sentences for older people convicted of sexual crimes may be inappropriate in many cases. The desire of many prosecutors and the public is often to favor the lengthiest sentences possible so that they can "send a message." But in many cases, this may simply be irresponsible.
Any person facing allegations of criminal sexual behavior is likely concerned about the possibility of jail time. However, with strong legal support, extensive and overly harsh sentences can be avoided.
Source: ABA Journal, "Posner Advises Judges to Consider Cost of Imprisoning Elderly When Imposing a 'Superlong Sentence'," Debra Cassens Weiss, Dec. 20, 2012