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Time to rethink judicial release

Among the complaints against recently-terminated Washington County Assistant Prosecutor Amy Bean was that she too often agreed not to oppose judicial release in criminal cases as part of her plea deals.

Early release in Washington County has occurred just within the last few weeks for a man convicted on child pornography charges and a father who violently shook his infant, causing serious harm. He served half of his four-year sentence.

Perhaps, with the dismissal of Bean shedding light on this issue, it’s time for those who are a part of our local justice system to take a closer look at the practice of judicial release.

We would argue that there is a place for it, but perhaps not in cases involving violent crimes or crimes against children. Remember that prison time is given not just as a punitive or possibly rehabilitative measure, but also to keep the public safe.

While once seemingly rare, it was used primarily as “shock probation” for cases of a first-time offender sent to prison. These people had a low likelihood of recidivism.

Now judicial release seems to be quite commonplace, used on all types of offenders, and a handy tool to keep cases moving along through plea deals and to make jails less crowded. It’s not uncommon to see several judicial release hearings a week on the county court schedule.

We have a new prosecutor in office. The discussion must also include our judges, but perhaps she can take the lead on examining the benefits and costs of releasing so many convicted criminals well before their time is up. Otherwise, what does a sentence really even mean?

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