Judges have fine line on sentencing

Published 12:54 am Sunday, March 3, 2013

When it comes to sentencing criminals, Lawrence County’s judges are basically asked to perform a balancing act that would make a circus acrobat proud.

The reality is that crime has significantly increased in recent years. The natural response is that judges should “throw the book at lawbreakers” by handing out maximum fines and maximum jail sentences. But the issue is not nearly that black and white.

Crime — and certainly punishment — is an expensive proposition.

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With a jail that is already filled well beyond capacity and an operating budget that continues to burst at the seams, incarcerating everyone isn’t the answer.

Even handing out maximum penalties in terms of fines can be counterproductive because most crimes in Lawrence County are committed because of drug or financial problems. Adding hefty fines may only aggravate the situation and create a self-perpetuating cycle.

Overall, our judges in the city and the county do a good job of walking this tight rope. Certainly alternative sentencing options will become even more important as financial and manpower constraints continue.

Existing options may need to be expanded and new alternatives have to be sought out.

Could the city and county partner to create a more expansive work program? Are there more ways to expand home confinement options? Are there other ways these men and women can contribute to society?

The punishment must always fit the crime but also be significant enough to act as a deterrent for others.

It won’t be easy to find this perfect balance, but it will be very important.

The applause from taxpayers would likely rival anything you would hear under the big top.