Life in prison is for the worst murders, the vilest rapists, and the meanest robbers, right? Well maybe, but in the U.S., a person can be imprisoned from 20 years to life in prison for stealing candy. This is no joke.
Jacobia Grimes found out the penalty for going to a Dollar General store in New Orleans and stuffing $31 worth of candy bars into his pockets can be life in prison. This smacks of starving people in England, in 1863, being jailed for stealing a loaf of bread to feed their families and being “locked away with men who have murdered in cold blood,” according to the “Cornhill Magazine” article “The Punishment of Convicts.”
When Grimes appeared in court for arraignment Thursday to plead not guilty, Criminal District Court Judge Franz Zibilich said, according to the New Orleans Advocate:
‘Isn’t this a little over the top? It’s not even funny. Twenty years to life for a Snickers bar, or two or three or four.’
A libertarian think tank Pelican Institute for Public Policy member Kevin Kane, said:
‘It’s obviously an example of some of the situations that you inevitably end up seeing when you have some of these habitual-offender laws. There’s no perfect solution. We always face this dilemma: Do you make sentences very flexible and run the risk of people who have done something bad not getting tough enough sentences, or do you make them very rigid?’
Louisiana has the “most rigid” sentencing laws in the country, according to Kane:
‘More and more people are coming to the realization that as we amped up sentences over the past 20, 30 years, this is something we should revisit. When you cast this wide a net, you end up pulling in people who really don’t pose a threat.’
Kane said that under a different statute, Grimes could have received a state misdemeanor:
‘I just think it points to the absurdity of the multiple billing statute. They’re spending their time to lock someone up for years over $31 worth of candy. It’s ridiculous.’
Another Grimes’ attorney Michael Kennedy pointed out the man has a ninth-grade education and a heroin problem:
‘It’s unconscionably excessive to threaten someone with 20 years to life for candy.’
‘The DA is following the law as it’s written,’ he said. ‘The DA certainly had a choice. I may not agree with the choice they made, but they didn’t do anything improper.’
Spokesman for District Attorney Leon Canizzaro’s office Christopher Bowman made no other comment due to office policy than:
‘It’s a felony offense. The state of Louisiana has defined it as a felony.’
Executive director of the Louisiana bipartisan group, which advocates for criminal justice reform, U.S. Justice Action Network Holly Harris said:
‘It’s so tragic. Clearly there’s something deeper that’s wrong here. Let’s be honest here. These are petty crimes. There’s no rhyme or reason for somebody stealing $30 worth of candy bars. It’s the same cycle of failure.’
Grimes is free on a $5000 bond and is due in court next Wednesday. He has chosen a bench trial, rather than a jury trial.
The video below shows the difference between this country’s punitive attitude toward criminals and the more intelligent approach in Germany and which candidate receives money from the private prison industry:
H/T: The New Orleans Advocate.