Giving criminals break problematic

Taxpayers might want to ask state legislators exactly what their taxes are being used for if legislation to give criminals a break on sentencing passes in the General Assembly. Incarcerating criminals -- paying for their meals and paying someone to babysit them all day and night -- is costly, but isn't keeping them away from society, away from our children and loved ones, the whole idea of sticking them in jail in the first place?

That will not matter, of course, under the save-a-buck measure that seems to be gaining momentum in the Legislature. House Bill 349 would give judges more leeway in sentencing and lower mandatory sentencing on such crimes as armed robbery, kidnapping, rape, aggravated child molestation, aggravated sodomy and aggravated sexual battery.

Right now, with the exception of armed robbery, these devastating offenses call for a mandatory minimum sentence of 25 years. Under new guidelines, criminals would get a break simply by pleading guilty to the crime.

Those convicted of armed robbery today are supposed to be sentenced to a minimum of 10 years. They, too, would face a lighter stretch if the law passes.

Budgetwriters are licking their chops. They claim these new setencing requirements would save the state more than $264 million over a five-year period. The state has not said where it will channel the savings.

As for leaving the sentencing of certain other crimes to the discretion of judges - is this wise? The judges we have today in the Brunswick Judicial Circuit are fair and level-headed, but they won't always be there. They will eventually retire. Then there are the other circuits, many of which have had their share of issues. More than one judge over the years in this and in other circuits has been accused of or investigated for showing favoritism to certain individuals. Do we want to go back down that road?

Returning violent felons to the streets quicker than we already are and giving judges carte blanche power in deciding who will serve long stretches in this political world we live in today is a major problem in the making.