Ash: Sentencing practices can waste resources, lives - East Valley Tribune: Opinion

Ash: Sentencing practices can waste resources, lives

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Rep. Cecil Ash, R-Mesa, represents District 18 at the Arizona Legislature.

Posted: Thursday, January 5, 2012 5:04 pm | Updated: 12:47 pm, Sat Jan 7, 2012.

My years in public service have helped me to understand the substantial power of public office. The ability to do good is commensurate with the ability to do harm to those we serve. Let me give one example.

Although Jeff Jones (not his real name) never graduated from high school, he was a good provider for his wife and four children. Due to his lack of education, he mostly worked in sales. At one point in 2005, Jeff worked for a mortgage broker during the real estate boom. The broker and an escrow officer decided that they would close escrows by funding the down payment on transactions from the loan proceeds. Jeff participated in a few of these escrows, but recognized that something was wrong. Confronting the broker, Jeff asked if this was illegal. He was told "Yes, technically - but everyone's doing it." Jeff's response was "Well, I can't," and he immediately gave two weeks' notice and quit. The mortgage broker and escrow agent continued their operation. Jeff obtained employment at a computer software company and went about his life.

About six months later, the FBI came to ask him about his dealings at his former company. Jeff told them everything. Later on Jeff was indicted for fraud along with the mortgage broker and the escrow officer. The result: The mortgage broker got nine months in prison, the escrow officer one day in jail, and Jeff received a sentence of five years. His family of now five children is receiving assistance from the state.

At his sentencing, Jeff had over 80 letters from neighbors, employers, and family attesting to his excellent character, that he was a good father and husband and a helpful neighbor. His employer at the time of sentencing wrote that he was a good employee and could continue his employment if he were not incarcerated.

Why did Jeff get such a raw deal? A subpar attorney, and the practice of offering the best plea to the first person that agrees to testify against everyone else.

This is an example of the waste resulting from our current system. Incarceration is frequently looked at as the default punishment. Jeff was never a physical threat to anyone. As such, other alternative punishments could have been employed. Jeff could have been given a substantial fine and the chance to continue employment to pay his fine and restitution. He could have been given community service. He could have continued to be a good father and husband, live in his community and provide for his family. Instead, prosecutors wanted their pound of flesh from the least culpable person that was indicted.

Our present system results in a waste of resources, both to the state and to the individual and to families. When taxes are used to incarcerate non-dangerous felons, resources are used which could be directed to more worthy causes. With a recidivism rate approaching 45 percent in our state, we must recognize that needlessly warehousing non-dangerous inmates is not only futile - it's senseless. And what does the future hold for five children growing up without a father

Rep. Cecil Ash, R-Mesa, represents District 18 at the Arizona Legislature.

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