What will cut down on repeat offenders?
Brylee West, who allegedly shot a 2-year-old girl and her mother last week in Steubenville, is no stranger to pulling a trigger on another human being.
When West was 15 years old, he put a bullet in another teenager who was unarmed and walking down a sidewalk in Steubenville. The boy, whose age wasn’t disclosed in information available to me, recovered from the July 2015 wound.
That November, West, who claimed he was in fear of his life when he shot the other teen, was sentenced to three years in a state youth services facility. Obviously, he wasn’t held there for the full three years, assuming the clock started running in November 2015.
Not long after being released, still on parole, West allegedly shot Mahogany Luke, 27, and her 2-year-old daughter, while they were in a car on Ridge Avenue in Steubenville. The child was injured badly.
Police still are looking for West, though last week, they arrested an 18-year-old acquaintance of his. He was charged with obstruction of justice and tampering with evidence.
Assuming West is caught and convicted — and remember, everyone is innocent until proven guilty — what will Ohio authorities do with him?
Slap him on the wrist again?
A lot is said about how we Americans lock up too many people. Our prisons are packed to the point we frequently add new crimes to the list of those we decide no longer require incarceration.
Here’s the thing, though: Many of those we send to the big house serve their sentences, get out and go right back to lives of crime.
A U.S. Department of Justice study released in May looked at recidivism in 30 states, including West Virginia and Ohio. Unfortunately, the report didn’t break statistics down by state.
But in those 30 states, 83 percent of convicts released from prison were convicted of new crimes within nine years of being set free. Forty-four percent were re-arrested within a year of getting out of prison.
And that’s just those who were caught. Some spent their years behind bars learning how to commit the perfect, arrest-free crimes.
Before you become too sympathetic toward juvenile criminals, consider that their recidivism numbers are high, too. The Council of State Governments Justice Center found that in many states, up to 80 percent of juvenile offenders incarcerated for their crimes were re-arrested within three years of leaving custody.
Don’t bother trying to explain that with the old claim about jails and prisons just being incubators for crime. “Community controls” don’t seem to be the answer. Again from the CSG: “… outcomes for youth on community supervision are often not much better” in terms of recidivism.
So, what now? Build more prisons? Throw some violent offenders, both youth and adult, in cells and throw away the keys?
Not a bad idea, if we could identify those with mean streaks. Unfortunately, we can’t — and our system of justice doesn’t permit preventive incarceration. You have to do the crime to do the time.
Perhaps, though, we ought to increase the amount of time behind bars for violent crimes, even for juveniles.
What will it take for us to do better on keeping really dangerous thugs off our streets? More babies shot in the head?
Myer can be reached at: firstname.lastname@example.org.