Burning bridges

By The West Virginia Record | Dec 7, 2007

When it doesn't fit their world view, cause and effect can play tricks on the minds of self-absorbed politicians.

Take soon-to-be-ex-state Supreme Court Justice Larry Starcher, who recently pronounced public puzzlement that, as West Virginia's crime rate falls, its state prisons still claim record occupancy.

Starcher dismisses the possibility that the former (less crime) could be a result of the latter (more criminals behind bars). From his perch, it's but a paradox.

"West Virginia has absolutely no need for the number of jail and prison beds it has now," Starcher complained in a November Supreme Court opinion.

That opinion, in a financial dispute between the Regional Jail Authority and Cabell County, didn't call for Starcher's personal opinion. But he gave it anyway, revealing a shocking level of contempt for his colleagues within our state justice system, if not democracy itself.

"Sadly, too many prosecutors seek and judges impose long prison and jail sentences out of fear, anger, and re-election concerns, not common sense or a compelling concern for public safety," he wrote, lamenting tough sentences given to so-called "non-violent" offenders.

In criminal mythology, longer prison sentences don't deter crime and our prisons are unjustly full of harmless folks who really don't belong there. In reality -- the 1990s featured a massive increase in prison sentences and a massive decrease in crime here and elsewhere -- the opposite is true.

For law-abiding citizenry, this isn't a difficult concept to grasp. Imprisonment ensures criminals aren't out on the street committing more crime. As for those "non-violent" victim-criminals, the truth is that most of those locked up are repeat offenders who have committed violent crimes in the past. They're habitual criminals -- the ones we most desperately need to keep off our streets, not shower with sympathy.

Justice Starcher is within his rights to feel otherwise. He's allowed to believe his fellow judges and prosecutors regularly imprison citizens unjustly as a ploy to get votes; to play conspiracy theory on his own time. Heck, Starcher can even peddle his "soft on crime" platform as a candidate for legislative office once he leaves the bench, something we'd pay to see.

But he's way out of line -- as a sitting judge on our state's most important court -- to spew this unsubstantiated drivel while he continues to serve the public, consciously undermining the integrity of a justice system he swore to uphold.

We know it's about you, Justice Starcher, and we can hear you roar! But can you please conjure up a little respect for this state's institutions on your way out the door?

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