In Michigan, a woman was sentenced to clean houses for disaster relief fraud. In Texas, a man was ordered to yoga classes for domestic abuse. In Warren County, Ohio, felons on probation attend book club. According to Aya Gruber, associate law professor at Florida International University in Miami, judges are “most likely to try new things in cases that involve juveniles, low-level offenses and drug and sex offenses.” What kind of message is this sending to offenders and possible offenders?
Scholars are calling this new trend, “creative sentencing” and “discretionary sentencing.” It would seem, however, to only perpetuate a system in which crimes are not punishable by uncomfortable means. Jails now have cable television and gyms with amenities that much of the general public cannot afford to utilize. Those who are harsh on inmates are accused of being inhumane. How do we expect to deter would-be criminals with a criminal justice system that coddles lawbreakers?
A public outcry against this kind of trend is appropriate and to be expected. Aya Gruber, associate professor of law at Florida State University in Miami, however, says that judges should be “courageous” enough to flout public opinion and “political popularity.” “Even if they’re appointed,” she said, “No judge wants to see their name in the newspaper or to be whispered about in the courthouse that they’re doing things that the public doesn’t like or things that are crazy. It really has to be a judge who really doesn’t care about public perception that’s willing to do some of the more creative things.”
In a system of justice, criminals must be punished. New and creative rehabilitation techniques can be effective, but rehabilitation must be separated from punishment. Domestic abusers must be punished, not sent to yoga class. Perhaps Sheriff Joe isn’t so far off in feeding his inmates bologna sandwiches.