Letter to the Editor: Brooklyn sex offender gets light sentence
This letter was written in response to John Marzulli’s article titled, “Brooklyn Sex Offender Gets Light Sentence for Molesting Eight Victims as Judge Sympathizes with his Mental Illness,” published in the New York Daily News on Jan. 7, 2015. I write this response in my capacity as both a private attorney and President-Elect of the Kings County Criminal Bar Association.
John Marzulli’s recent article criticizing Brooklyn Supreme Court Justice Vincent Del Guidice, for imposing what Mr. Marzulli has personally decided was a “light sentence” for sex offender Lowell Britt, was an intellectually bereft rant designed to inflame emotions rather than insightfully report on a complex legal issue. Ripping a respected jurist who isn’t permitted to respond in the media contributes nothing to the public’s understanding of difficult issues such as those involved in Mr. Britt’s case.
Mr. Britt’s case is emblematic of a large scale problem facing the criminal justice system: mental illness as a key underpinning of aberrant conduct, particularly sexual deviance. Just as the courts foolishly once believed that heavy jail sentences were sufficient to “deter” drug crimes, so too did the system once view long prison terms as the answer for mentally ill sex offenders. Luckily, the courts have learned from its mistakes, backed up by empirical medical research demonstrating that diseases of addiction cannot be “deterred” by carrots and sticks. Put simply, you can’t punish the mentally ill and expect them to be cured. Such outdated thinking has been thoroughly discredited both in theory as well as practice.
Long term, sustained, and properly focused treatment is required to address psychiatric disorders that lead to a wide variety of crimes. This is especially true with sex offenses. You don’t need to hold a PhD in criminology or a board certification in psychiatry to appreciate this obvious conclusion.
Despite decades of harsh prison sentences for all manner of addicts — sex offenders and substance abusers alike — the incidence of these crimes continued to rise. Corrections officials uniformly admit that prisons are terrible mental health providers. They simply don’t have the resources to treat anyone.
This is why every jurisdiction in the country has adopted alternatives to incarceration programs addressing the disorders underlying many criminal offenses, and why sex offenders are required to endure much longer probationary and therapeutic regimens than other convicts. Mr. Britt, for example, after serving three years in state prison — no slap on the wrist, as anyone who has gone to jail will affirm — will serve 15 long years of post-release supervision. During this time he will undergo constant therapy and scrutiny. This is far more sensible than “warehousing” him in jail for 10 years and releasing him as a far more dangerous risk to society, making him the next generation’s problem.
Albert Einstein defined insanity as doing the same thing over and over again and expecting a different result. John Marzulli might want to revert to using the blunt force of prison to create an insanely false sense of accomplishment, but insightful judges throughout the country recognize that there is a better way to address complicated issues like mental illness. Judge Del Guidice deserves better than crude attacks that appeal to emotion rather than reason.
Very Truly Yours,
Michael C. Farkas
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Michael C. Farkas, Esq., PLLC, is a private attorney and president-elect of the Kings County Criminal Bar Association.
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