This is Just Wrong
James Prater clearly has a problem. He’s an addict. He was charged in southeastern Kentucky with manufacturing methamphetamine. Meth has been a problem in Kentucky, particularly the rural counties, for the last 15 years. The Kentucky legislature passed laws making the manufacturing of meth a Class B felony (10-20 years for the first offense, 20-life for a subsequent offense). Prater apparently committed two counts of manufacturing meth, as well as other offenses, and pled guilty to it in return for a 20 year recommendation from the prosecutor. He was sentenced to 20 years in prison and placed on probation for 5 years. He later tore off his ankle bracelet and went straight to WalMart, where he was found passed out in a bathroom stall. Found nearby was, yes, a one-step meth lab.
Prater was brought back to court. The Commonwealth of Kentucky in its majesty decided that while the 20 year sentence was OK in the first place, that upon violation of his probation he should be now sentenced to 48 years in prison. In essence, prosecutors wanted him to do an additional 28 years for being an addict. The trial court agreed while also lowering the sentence from the recommended 48 to 38 years. The judge in his compassion thought 18 years for being an addict was appropriate. Prater tried to withdraw his plea, but the trial court refused to allow it, and sentenced Prater to 38 years in prison. Prater will be eligible for parole after spending 20|PERCENT| of the time.
On appeal, the Kentucky Supreme Court affirmed in February of 2014. The main body of the opinion had to do with a “hammer clause”, allowing for the prosecutor to make a sentencing recommendation contingent upon compliance with particular terms, which would then become much harsher upon non-compliance. The holding in the case was that the hammer clause was OK, but that the sentencing judge had to retain his discretion on whether to follow the hammer clause and whether to allow for a withdrawal of the plea.
But the holding was not what stuck in my craw. At least three things bothered me. First, presenting a hammer clause to an addict is fundamentally unjust. Of course, an addict will take 20 years when he’s looking at over 50 years in prison, and will agree that he will no longer take drugs, drink alcohol, hang around with other felons, or whatever it takes. Freedom is freedom. But an addict remains an addict, and all should have known that he would one day answer the cravings in his brain, rip off his bracelet, and run to the nearest pharmacy to make meth.
Second, if 20 years of time was an appropriate sentence for an addict meth manufacturer, why was it necessary to pile on more time when he demonstrated that he was still a meth addict? What sense does it make to give an addict more time for his acting out of his addiction?
Third, does this display why we now have 2.3 million Americans in prison or what? We had 300,000 in our prisons only 30 years ago. But now we are addicted to incarceration. So we are giving an addict 38 years in prison, to join the nation of addicts in our human warehouses. Kentucky will spend $760,000 on Mr. Prater if he serves all of his 38 years. We are a poor state. But, God help us, we can’t help ourselves. We are addicted to locking people up.