October 18, 2005

Crime and Punishment

I found all of the readings regarding crime reporting very helpful. The department of justice handout really simplified the entire process and the three selections from Covering Crime Justice helped iron out some of the technicalities regarding wording and how a reporter should approach the crime beat.

While I was working with the Federal Women's Prison Camp in Alderson, WV three years ago, I learned a lot about sentencing and corrections. Specifically, I learned a lot about what goes in to calculating "good time" and lengths of sentences. An interesting fact is that if a judge wants to be more leniant with someone, he will sentence them to a year and a day, rather than a year, because after a year a person is eligible for approximately 54 days of "good time." That means that they are able to be released from prison almost two months early. Now granted, that "good time" can be taken away, but it exists to give the prisoner incentives to behave, so to speak.

The prison with which I worked dealt primarily with financial and drug crimes, so the sentences were usually not long enough to require parole. However, one sentencing issue many of the women had to deal with was that of Mandatory Minimums. In federal drug crimes, sentencing is taken out of the judge's hands and is dictated by strict rules regarding the circumstances of the offense (usually the amount of drugs involved and whether or not there was a gun involved). Many judges have spoken out about these minumims because they take away a judge's ability to judge individual cases that have extenuating circumstances. Supporters of mandatory minimums believe that there should be regularity with drug sentencing and that the harsh sentences will help dissuade would-be offenders.

I have a lot of opinions on mandatory minimums, but that's a topic for another day...

Posted by JohannaDreyfuss at October 18, 2005 10:12 PM | TrackBack

Wow, great information, Johanna. I didn't know about mandatory minimums until I read your post.

After reading the selections on the crime beat, I have to admit I'm a little intimidated by it. It seems easy to make mistakes in crime reporting which could cost you your credibility, or your job, as a reporter.

Posted by: ChrisU at October 19, 2005 09:43 AM

I know what you mean - there are so many technicalities and specifics involved that I would hate to be one of the newbies mentioned who is just thrown into it blind. "Sink or swim" is a great attitude and all, but that's certainly not the way I would want to have to make my name =)

Posted by: Johanna at October 19, 2005 10:29 AM

I was just discussing with a friend who is attending law school & he suggested journalists take classes/lessons in laws and legalities. LIke you said, Johanna, there are so many technicalities that could strip a reporter of his/her credibility.

Posted by: Katie Lambert at October 22, 2005 06:28 PM

Ditto, Chris's comment. Wow, I'd like to interview you for my feature article. What an experience, although a sad one I would think. I have to say that I don't like mandatory sentences because each case should be judged on its own merits. What did you do in the prison? Where you an intern there?

Posted by: NancyGregg at October 23, 2005 07:28 PM

Nancy -
I completely agree with you about mandatory sentences. I saw quite a few situations where it was so obvious that the inmate shouldn't have received the sentence that they did.

I volunteered in a Hospitality House which housed free of charge families visiting their loved ones in the prison as well as women who were about to begin their sentences and women who were just released. It was such an amazing experience and I met so many wonderful and interesting people.

Katie -
I think that classes in law would be extremely helpful - especially for journalism majors in their junior and senior years. At that point they'd be exposed to different types of journalism and would have the basis to begin applying the laws.

Posted by: Johanna at October 23, 2005 11:37 PM
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