It’s key to remember that the job of District Attorney is an elected office and therefore, can be, depending on the attorney/candidate, be a very political office.Â Especially in an election year.Â And this post at Grits points out, Message received: PR valued more than justice by Williamson DA, several disturbing things about a recent PR stunt by Williamson County DA John Bradley and his “eager accomplice” KEYE-TV. It’s the story of a low-level repeat drug offender getting a harsh sentence in Williamson County. Nothing shocking or surprising about that. It’s the reason the DA did it that’s the problem.
Regina Ann Burke, 44, of Manor pleaded guilty to two counts of delivery of a controlled substance.
The court gave Burke 35 years in jail for the crimes. She had previous drug and burglary convictions from other Texas counties as well.
Williamson County DA John Bradley responded in a written news release “[t]his case should make it obvious that the Parole Boardâ€™s policy of early release has given this drug dealer the wrong message.
He’s trying to send a message to the parole board not to release low-level drug offenders. From Grits:
So according to John Bradley, the parole board sent the wrong message to Ms. Burke. Her recidivism sent a message about the parole board to him. So he pushed for a 35 year sentence for a pathetic, penny ante meth addict to send a message to the parole board about its “policy of early release,” with KEYE as his eager accomplice.
That’s a lot of message sending! But ignoring all the “messages” for a moment, what are the actual, real-world outcomes?
We already know why the parole board is releasing low-level offenders more frequently when they become eligible: The prisons are so overstuffed they don’t have room for actually dangerous offenders, much less folks like Ms. Burke.
At this time it’s essential to point out that paroling, and/or finding new ways to deal with low-level offenders, is one of those issues that people on both sides of the political spectrum agree on – bringing together Democrats, Republicans and a right-wing think tank. Bradley is a lock-’em-up-and-throw-away-the-key DA.
Grits finishes by stating why finding alternatives is so important, and why what Bradley’s doing is not helping:
To me, this is the type of defendant who could do well under a stronger probation/community supervision regimen, like Judge Cynthia Kent’s day reporting center in Tyler, which requires offenders to report daily, get a job, and comply with stricter controls than the monthly check-in typical of most probation supervision. For that matter, she’s exactly the kind of person for whom drug courts were created.
But Mr. Bradley wants to “send a message” (and issue a press release, and get his name on TV), so instead of helping her turn her life around, get a job, pay taxes, and contribute to the community, taxpayers will just incarcerate her for the next 9-35 years, at a likely to rise cost of more than $16,000 (in 2007 dollars) annually.
Even worse, from a public policy perspective, they might have to release someone even more dangerous to make room for her, like happened with this guy.
All this message sending is getting expensive, and it’s harming public safety. I think we can safely say at this point that “sending a message” is not the strong suit of the criminal justice system. Perhaps that’s because its purpose is, you know, securing justice, not getting the DA’s name on the local TV news.
Yes it costs much, much more to keep them in jail then it does to help them on the outside. But jails and prisons have become another corporate racket.