One of the most well-known federal judges has recently weighed in on what he thinks about sentencing older sex offenders to what he calls “superlong sentence[s].” Judge Richard Posner is urging other judges to be very conscious about their sentencing when dealing with older offenders. He would rather see someone sentenced to a shorter sentence so that the offender could work and contribute to society following his or her incarceration, rather than die in prison or leave when he or she is quite elderly.

The judge, known for his emphasis on law and economics, argues that someone who is in his or her mid-to-late 40s could face up to 50 years in prison for creating child pornography, but that means either the individual will die in prison or that he or she will leave in his or her 90s. To be sentenced to a de facto life sentence means that the individual will cost tax payers nearly $70,000 a year for each year he or she is in prison. During that whole time, the offender will not be paying taxes or contributing to Medicare and Social Security.

If the person survives the 50-year sentence, he or she will likely be drawing from those same public entitlements that he or she had been unable to contribute to while imprisoned.

Posner recommended that judges take into account the age of the offenders appearing before them when sentencing. While many people’s gut reaction is to lock anyone up for life who is accused of sex crimes, Posner reminds judges that sex crimes are nearly never committed by people over 60. Sentencing someone to a more reasonable prison sentence would also cost tax payers less.

It remains to be seen if judges will take Judge Posner’s advice, as there is still a knee-jerk reaction to anyone suspected of committing some kind of sex crime.

Source: ABA Journal, “Posner Advises Judges to Consider Cost of Imprisoning Elderly When Imposing a ‘Superlong Sentence,”” Debra Cassens Weiss, Dec. 20, 2012

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