Violent Criminals Must Stay in Prison

By Levy, David A. | USA TODAY, May 1994 | Go to article overview

Violent Criminals Must Stay in Prison


Levy, David A., USA TODAY


Convicted felons who have violated Federal firearms laws should have their sentences doubled.

The most basic function of government is to protect law-abiding citizens in their homes and communities. Without such safeguards in place, civilized society will falter, causing ordinary people to become prisoners in their own homes, and forcing them to protect themselves against criminals.

Today, more communities are living in fear of violent crime. While the U.S. hasn't reached the point of anarchy, criminals seem more willing than ever to risk prosecution. The reason is that, even if they are caught, they re unlikely to be punished severely. In short, despite what we were told in school, crime does pay.

Americans have been failed miserably by a 30-year social experiment in criminals justice which perceives criminals as victims of societal ills that allegedly drive them to commit heinous acts against other people. Since 1960, the number of violent crimes committed in the U.S. has increased by more than 500%, although the population has grown just 41%. According to the FBI, nearly 2,000,000 violent crimes occurred in 1991 alone. In 1960, that figure was less then 300,000.

In New York State, the surge in violent crime has propelled people to demand reinstatement of the death penalty. Yet, despite the fact that an overwhelming majority of voters and state legislators favor capital punishment, Gov. Mario Cuomo has vetoed every death penalty measure put before him.

Frustrated by Cuomo's insistence upon ignoring New York voters' appeals for tough action on violent crime, I introduced the Violence with Firearms Prevention Act of 1994 with the support of the entire New York Republican Congressional delegation. This measure would impose the death penalty on many criminals who kill with a firearm acquired in another state.

Under the proposal, those who transport firearms across state lines for unlawful purposes are subject to imprisonment for up to 20 years and may be fined. Penalties are more severe for subsequent convictions. In the event of a crime in which someone is injured, the prison term may be increased to 30 years. If a fatality results, the bill requires a life sentence or the death penalty, depending on the circumstances. Probationary or suspended sentences are prohibited, as is the imposition of concurrent sentences.

The proposed legislation, I believe, is bu one step Congress must take to restore the confidence of the American public to live and work safely. Others include passage o H.R. 2872, the Crime Control Act of 1993. This bill, introduced by House Republicans, is a comprehensive attempt at reversing decades of failed liberal crime policies. The measure would create a new, regional prison system to help states with the cost o detaining violent criminals. It would set mandatory minimum sentences for several violent crimes and includes a provision to impose the death penalty for the most violent criminals.

The first step in the campaign against hardened criminals is to build more prisons. Overcrowding has forced many states to release some violent criminals from jail after serving only about one-third of their sentences. The Crime Control Act would provide $3,000,000,000 in Federal matching funds to states to build a national system of regional prisons. The funding is contingent upon states enacting truth-in-sentencing and pre-trial detention laws, as well as mandatory minimum sentences for violent and repeat offenders.

Parole policies across the nation severely have reduced the deterrent effect of prison for criminals. A Federal study of release statistics in 36 states and the District of Columbia showed that violent criminals served an average of only two years and 11 months in prison, or 37% of their imposed sentence.

Parole often is "rewarded" to criminals for "good behavior" and can reduce a sentence by over one-third. …

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