By James Collins
Stalwart protector of the public, Judge Julian Lambert has decided that he is going to think outside the box. He has decided in his infinite judicial wisdom to cast aside the shackles of sentencing guidelines and blaze a new trail. He’s burned rubber right past crazytown and all the way to the booby hatch in his quest to get in the papers. He’s decided to turn the sentencing phase of a cannabis trial into an essay writing contest. How novel.
Good work Judge Lambert, you got famous! Now get back to being a judge instead of a comedian.
It is a proud tradition in some parts of the United States of America: Creative sentencing. This is the phenomenon where some judge, thinking themselves clever, decides to sentence a convicted offender to something ridiculous as their punishment in lieu of incarceration. Sometimes it involves standing in a public space wearing a humiliating sign. Perhaps it involves being forced into some bizarre living conditions, like slumlords being forced to occupy their own squalid properties. In this case, a man was forced to write a 5,000 word essay on the dangers of cannabis.
5,000 words is a pretty lengthy document. It is 20 standard book pages of writing, which is more than most people write about anything outside of academia. To write something like this on a subject you simply don’t agree with is more challenging than you might think. Could you come up with this much material to support an argument you clearly disagree with?
If this was me, and it isn’t, I would probably end up going to jail. The only thing I could think to do would be to expound upon the futility of authoring such propaganda at the order of the state, and I would likely get charged with contempt of court for my belligerence. I don’t imagine the court will feel that one of the primary dangers of cannabis is the fact you may get arrested and end up having to write twenty pages of utter nonsense about how dangerous cannabis is.
Would Terrance Bennett have been using cannabis if he was this convinced it was dangerous?
The presiding official, Judge Julian Lambert, is obviously a bit of an ass. He’s clearly trying to make a publicity case out of this, doing something so ridiculously outside the existing sentencing guidelines that it ventures into the realm of farce. He already gave Mr Bennett a suspended sentence and probation, but was told by the probation service that Terrance was unfit for any kind of work because of physical disability.
One might conclude that Mr Bennett was using cannabis because of his egregious physical injuries. That obviously didn’t enter into the head of Judge Lambert. It is self-evident from his conduct that there is plenty of room in there for new information; the existing space isn’t well occupied. The probation services are notoriously hard-nosed and even they concluded that Terrence Bennet is incapable of work because of physical disability – how dangerous could this man possibly be?
Judge Lambert is trying to import a new philosophy in corrections into the UK off the back of a harmless medicinal cannabis user. Notably, over the pond, Sherriff Joe Arpaio engages in this sort of ridiculous behavior. Prisoners in a local detention center are forced to live outside in tents, do hard labor, and wear pink underwear. It is part of a campaign of humiliation and degradation towards criminal offenders.
What is the best part of Sherriff Joe and his reign of terror? His region has the highest recidivism rate in America.
Aside from being unfit for decent society, creative sentencing actually increases crime rates. It isn’t effective. When you traumatize offenders with humiliating treatment, you do nothing positive for them, and in some cases damage their self-esteem badly enough to keep them from pulling themselves out of the gutter they’ve fallen into.
Judge Lambert is clearly from the “I don’t need your liberal facts” school of thought, because he has chosen to jump on this bandwagon ten years after it has proven ineffective. His goal is not to reduce recidivism and rehabilitate offenders. His goal is to marginalize a segment of society, staring down his nose at the peasant class with disdain and handing down dictums fit for a syphilitic monarch.
As for Terrence Bennett, he will probably write his essay and hope that it’s enough to feed the massive ego of Judge Lambert. If he had money for decent enough lawyers, he could probably appeal on the grounds this sentence is unlawful in and of itself. However legally inappropriate this happens to be, the appeals process is still lengthy and cost-prohibitive. How can a man who is too disabled to work be expected to wage such an uphill battle?
That is where it is worth discussing a legal defense fund for future incidents like this. It’s going to happen again. Once a precedent like this is set, and some wannabe Judge Judy gets some press for their asinine behavior, it will encourage more members of the judiciary to think outside the bounds of reason. Before you know it pot smokers around the UK will be wearing pink underwear and sleeping in tents.
It’s not to be ignored. Talk to your friends about this. Raise the issue of creative sentencing and the slippery slope it takes us all down. Today it is writing a 5,000 word essay of complete tripe to satisfy the ego of one impotent Judge. Tomorrow it could be sandwich boards in the public square. How far is it from there to the stocks, with the peasantry hurling rotten food at offenders to shame them into compliance?
James Collins is a Canadian blogger, author and activist.