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What we think: Criminal penalties seem too lenient

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A recently probated jail term for a man who stole more than $500,000 in property was stunning.

We are starting to wonder if there are any cells available in our state prisons, because we are becoming increasingly alarmed at high-profile crimes that are going unpunished by incarceration.
This is said neither to renew our shock at the meager wrist slapping given to admitted office thief Jody Wills nor to condemn any particular judge for his or her rulings.
But rather this is a focus on the crime-and-punishment system, because there are examples it’s not working like we would expect it to work.
Earlier this month, Sandra Chilton, a woman who admitted to taking more than $600,000 by writing phony loans for the lending company office she was managing, accepted and will serve 41 months without parole in federal prison, which we would suggest seems a fair and appropriate punishment for her crime.
More importantly, she agreed to this deal, and the courts signed off.
But when we see that the person who stole more merchandise than anyone in the history of Shelby County walks away from an agreed upon sentence with nothing more than some home incarceration and probation, then we have to wonder what level of mischief is required to earn some decent jail time from our state court system.
We refer to Jack McIntosh, a part-time Jefferson County sheriff’s deputy who stole more than $500,000 worth of containers from a warehouse in Shelby County where he worked – a theft that Shelby County Sheriff Mike Armstrong called “the biggest merchandise theft ever” – was given probation for the 7-year sentence to which he had agreed.
That left us to wonder what in the name of justice is going on here.
Why are sentences in federal court so much more consistent and appropriate?
We understand that there is too much stress on the state penal system’s budget because of criminals serving time, and we understand that sometimes a first-time offender can merit a bit of a reprieve.
But these aren’t cases of someone swiping a sweater or carton of cigarettes, smoking a recreational joint or even taking someone else’s car for a joy ride.
These are serious, expensive, premeditated thefts of cash and property.
What are potential criminals to see of this? If you’re going to steal something, do it in Shelby County?
You plea down the crime and walk in the sunshine rather than sit behind bars. And, better yet, no one raises a ruckus.
That may be oversimplification, but that’s the impression we are seeing become not-so-clairvoyantly clearer.
We understand that our judges – Circuit Judge Charles Hickman, in this case – don’t comment on the “whys” of their decisions outside the record of the proceedings.
But we also note that neither our law enforcement nor prosecutorial leaders are horrified publicly by these outcomes.
They appear to be playing too nice with their comments about how their hard work is being cast to the rocks of judicial temperance.
We wonder if perhaps there shouldn’t be more of an outcry of injustice.
We wonder if perhaps we’ll someday have a capital offender skirt the system and find a way to freedom, too.
We certainly hope not, because the arrest reports and court reports already are littered with far too much activity.
And, yes, as those charged in those crimes go through the system they generate an exponentially huge increase in the cost for housing and rehabilitating those perpetrators, forcing the state to release other prisoners because it has too many to keep behind bars.
Because of this, Shelby County Jailer Bobby Waits has capacity in his detention center and currently is courting a new contract for inmates from Anderson County, to shore up some of the revenue losses from the state’s problem.
Here’s an idea: How about we send some of those who commit their crimes here to his jail and keep them there for a while.
Yes, someone has to foot the bill, but shouldn’t the criminals pay for their crimes, too?