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Sentences for Criminals

December 16, 1992

This column on crime statistics proved the meaninglessness of numbers. Bessette, a former federal bureaucrat, claimed that criminals do not serve long sentences in America. He should get out of the computer and into reality.

Bessette attacks his opponents, presumably the liberals, with a theory that convicted felons just "pass through" prison. I work daily in the justice system. The truth is that acquittals on so-called technicalities are rare, and long sentences are common. The truth is that most often the convict's race and class determine the sentence, and determine whether or not a convicted murderer gets the death penalty.

I routinely do appeals for men who have been convicted of robberies and burglaries, who get sent to prison for periods of five to 12 years. These are not short sentences. I see blacks and Latinos get huge terms for rock cocaine, while white professionals get slapped on the wrist for powder cocaine offenses. I see clients who are Indian get enormous sentences.

Clearly, more prisons and more prisoners have not resulted in safer streets and homes. The "lock 'em all up" theory has failed. Alternatives must be considered.

JACK L. SCHWARTZ

Attorney, Santa Monica

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