Editor’s note: This commentary is by Keith Stern, who is the owner for 30 years of Stern’s Quality Produce, a retail and wholesale business in White River Junction. He is a candidate for governor in the next Republican primary. He was an independent candidate for U.S. Senate and participated in the Republican primary for U.S. representative. He served many years on the Design Review Board in Springfield, where he lives.
I believe we have taken corrections in the wrong direction. In some circumstances punishment is needed, but in others isolation from from society is needed. The problem is they are lumped together and we have to examine the intent of sentencing so we can adopt a realistic plan that can accomplish the goals responsibly and cost effectively. To that end, we have to separate the people in the correctional system and have a plan that works best for each group.
First we have the violent offenders. We have the right approach for them.
When people who are otherwise productive citizens are locked away and carry a criminal record, then they become less employable and end up on government assistance.
Second, we have the drug dealers. My plan is to put them in a boot camp program. I believe the vast majority lack respect, discipline and dignity. After all, they are making a living by ruining others’ lives. I feel a six-month program followed by a two-year stint in the military should turn their lives around. Right into the military after sentencing would rarely work because they would be completely unprepared and lack the discipline to take orders. They would come out with a different mindset and will have received training in a field they could pursue afterward.
The third is first-time nonviolent offenders. The goal is to punish them but not at the current cost per inmate. When people who are otherwise productive citizens are locked away and carry a criminal record, then they become less employable and end up on government assistance. The idea I want to see tried out is to report to a location where they spend their day or night when they aren’t working (for those who are employed) when sentenced. There is some of that plan being utilized but it is only on weekends and they report to a correctional facility. My plan would have them spend their nonworking hours in detention but not at a prison. Schools could be used at night and some available location could be used during the day. There would be no armed guards, just several supervising them and they would receive one light meal a day, whether it be sandwiches for supper or cereal for breakfast. The sentences could be kept short and they have to adhere to the rules or be moved to prison for the rest of their term.
Fourth would be the nonviolent offenders who aren’t employed. They could do community service during the day, working with highway crews or other similar jobs and spend their evenings in detention.
Since these are nonviolent offenders the homeless could go there to have shelter and a meal as well. While this isn’t solving the homeless problem, it could help as a short-term solution.