Spottedcrow sentence points out need for reform
BY JULIE DELCOUR Associate Editor
Sunday, October 09, 2011
10/09/11 at 4:41 AM
A Kingfisher County judge did the right thing last week when he suspended the final four years of the 12-year sentence of Patricia M. Spottedcrow, a first offender convicted of selling $31 worth of marijuana to a police informant.
That's damning Associate District Judge Robert Davis with faint praise. What he should have done is cut this ridiculous sentence down to size. The punishment clearly does not fit the crime. Spottedcrow is only a year into her sentence and is not eligible for parole until maybe 2014, meaning that she will serve several years for her two-bit offenses.
In fairness to Davis, he did not hand down the original sentence assessed a year ago by now-retired Associate District Judge Susie Pritchett. But judging from his order, Davis did not find much fault with Pritchett's reasoning. Davis also describes Spottedcrow's crimes as "serious," said that she had engaged in a "pattern of behavior, and that there was no reason to believe that she would not have continued this criminal behavior."
In an apparent reference to the widespread support Spottedcrow has received, Davis' order said that Spottedcrow "minimized the seriousness of the actions of selling drugs in the presence of her children and minimized the overall criminal behavior that she exhibited much the same as her numerous followers."
He also noted that Spottedcrow had showed up at the original sentencing with drugs in her pocket, which subsequently earned her another two-year sentence that runs concurrently with the 12-year term.
I'm not about to argue that Spottedcrow, 26, was a model citizen; she clearly was not. The sentence, however, is not only about Patricia Spottedcrow. It's also about balancing the interests of the state against her actions, and whether she is a danger to the community. The sentence ends up punishing the taxpayers financially and eats up prison space that more properly could be utilized for housing offenders with records of violence or sale of more dangerous drugs or greater quantities of drugs.
Spottedcrow is lucky she wasn't stupid enough to peddle methamphetamine; Pritchett might have locked her up for life.
The sentence is a terrible waste of state resources considering it costs close to $20,000 a year to keep her locked up. State prisons are at capacity. County jails are full of offenders awaiting transport to prison But somebody likely is waiting on a cell because Patricia Spottedcrow sold $31 worth of marijuana.
If anyone wonders why Oklahoma consistently ranks at the top in per-capita female incarceration, look no further than this case. That No. 1 ranking is related directly to how the state has chosen to handle women who commit nonviolent crimes. Until recently, alternatives to incarceration were few and far between. Kingfisher County, for example, did not have a drug court or community sentencing available.
This case also underscores the fact that most women serving sentences do not do so alone. Incarceration has a collateral effect. Also doing the time are thousands of their children who often spend years fighting deprivation, depression and academic failure. These kids are behind a different set of bars and the state spends a lot trying to help them.
About 23,000 state children have a father in prison, and 4,000 have a mother in prison. Spottedcrow has four children, some of whom could be approaching their teens by the time she gets out.
On the positive side, she has bettered herself while in prison, taking parenting classes, finishing her GED and participating in a grief/loss recovery program, a behavior course, Alcoholics Anonymous/Narcotics Anonymous. And she is on a waiting list for other education programs.
Davis said that he recognized her progress: "Her new behavior should be noted, complimented and rewarded. However, she has only served a relatively short portion of her sentence. This court believes she needs more time to prepare and mature. Her past behavior had consequences. She is experiencing those consequences now."
And so are taxpayers.
Why continue Spottedcrow's incarceration when there are less costly alternatives available if the court were willing to explore those options?
As Josh Welch, Spottedcrow's attorney, told Tulsa World reporter Ginnie Graham:
"It's easy for people to be hard on criminals, and sometimes that's not the smart decision. Even if all those things in the order were true, I still disagree that 12 years or eight years is appropriate.
"There are ways to tell a person this type of lifestyle will not be tolerated but at the same time not perpetuate the problem by putting them in prison for a first offense. We incarcerate people because we sometimes think it's better to be tough on crime rather than think logically about what's best not only for the defendant but for the state."
Original Print Headline: Run-on sentence
Julie DelCour, 918-581-8379
Patricia Spottedcrow receives instructions from offender Wanoka Avery inside Dr. Eddie Warrior Correctional Center on the first day of her incarceration at the facility. Spottedcrow received a 12 year prison sentence for selling a small amount of marijuana to a police informant with her children present in Kingfisher, Okla. Spottedcrow, a mother of four, had no prior criminal record. ADAM WISNESKI / Tulsa World