Traverse City Record-Eagle

June 30, 2012

Another View: Consider cost of terms

The Macomb Daily
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---- — Michigan law imposes an automatic two-year prison sentence for the use of a firearm in the commission of a felony. That's not long enough, say a couple of legislators and some in law enforcement.

The legislators are proposing to extend the minimum sentence to 10 years, and to 25 years to life if a person is injured or killed during a crime in which a firearm is used.

The bill has been introduced in the Senate by Grand Ledge Republican Rick Jones. Plymouth Republican Kurt Heise is expected to introduce it in the House.

It may be a good idea. It may deter criminals and would-be criminals, perhaps not to do the crime, perhaps to take up a knife or a baseball bat instead of a gun.

The existing firearm felony law, introduced in the 1970s, certainly seemed like a good idea at the time, even if the sentences were often served concurrently with the sentence for the felony itself. It created hardships for some defendants when all involved agreed that extenuating circumstances made two years unnecessarily harsh. Plea bargaining was not an option.

Sen. Jones, Oakland County Sheriff Michael Bouchard and Detroit Police Chief Ralph Godbee held a press conference in Pontiac to promote the bills. They talked tough.

"If you bring a gun to your crime, you're doing hard time," said Jones, who worked in the Eaton County sheriff's department for 31 years.

Bouchard said those who have used a gun in a crime often repeat after their release.

In other words, the two-year felony firearm sentence isn't much of a deterrent.

Would a 10-year sentence deter someone from carrying a gun? Would a 25-to-life sentence deter someone from pulling the trigger?

In recent years, Michigan has made some strides toward reducing its prison population to a point where it's been promoting its unused capacity to other states.

At the same time, locking up felons has had some demonstrable impact on crime rates.

Longer sentences, then, may accomplish both goals: Deter crime and remove criminals from the streets.

But those goals, if they happen, will come at a cost, at a time when prisons consume more than 20 percent of the state's budget.

The costs need to be estimated before the legislation advances.

It may be that the state can't afford all that toughness.

The Macomb Daily (Mount Clemens)