Pharos-Tribune

Opinion

September 23, 2013

HAYDEN: The mythology of crime deterrence

(Continued)

Republican State Rep. Jud McMillin, a former deputy prosecutor from Brookville and a study committee member, said the question is complex. Pulling someone’s license because he’s a threat to public safety makes sense. But pulling the license of someone who isn’t a threat also creates an economic barrier for someone with a criminal record who has paid his debt to society and wants to become a productive, tax-paying citizen.

Other states are wrestling with this issue.

In May, the Minnesota Court of Appeals overturned a district court ruling striking down a law that allows the state to suspend a driver’s license of anyone who is three months behind in child-support payments. The appeals court rejected the district ruling’s decision that noted in part that the law was more harmful to people who live in rural areas where public transportation is rarely available.

In Florida, the ACLU is suing the state over a law that requires the Department of Motor Vehicles to automatically suspend the driver’s license of someone who hasn’t paid their court fees. The ACLU argues the penalty harms the poor and has caused more than 211,000 Floridians to lose their license that way.

Earlier this month, a local sheriff in Massachusetts urged his state Legislature to pass a law that would let drug offenders keep their license after a conviction. He argued that not having a driver’s license makes recidivism more likely for newly released inmates because they have a difficult time getting their license back and paying their reinstatement fees.

Back here in Indiana, public policymakers are raising similar concerns.

“We’re worshiping at the altar of deterrence,” said Larry Landis, who’s on the study committee as head of the Indiana Public Defender Council. “We keep ratcheting up penalties, saying, ‘If people know they’re going to lose their license, then surely they won’t do ‘X.’ It’s based on the mythology that if we make the penalties so severe, nobody in their right mind is going to commit this offense. If that were true, there would be no crime of any sort.”

Maureen Hayden covers the Statehouse for the CNHI newspapers in Indiana. She can be reached at maureen.hayden@indianamediagroup.com.

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