Why Kwame Kilpatrick Should Not Serve 28 Years in Prison

Post Date: October 15, 2013

Kwame Kilpatrick

Kwame Kilpatrick

(Atlantic Cities) — On Thursday afternoon, former two-term Detroit Mayor Kwame Kilpatrick was sentenced to 28 years in federal prison for a slew of corruption charges, including helping a friend illegally obtain $70 million in city contracts and using “over $840,000 cash, derived from the extortion/bribery/fraud conspiracy” for personal expenses.

There’s no question Kilpatrick broke the law, disgraced his office, and screwed over Detroit. But locking him up for 28 years is a ludicrous solution. 

For starters, it’s a waste of resources. As of 2012, the annual per capita cost of housing an inmate in a minimum security federal prison was $19,325, up from $18,849 in 2011. Taking into account modest cost increases over the course of Kilpatrick’s sentence, it’s fair to say he’ll cost taxpayers at least another half million, and possibly more. That’s a lot of money. Not to mention, the federal prison system is 40 percent over capacity. So Kilpatrick will also be taking up space that could and should be used for violent felons. 

But Kilpatrick’s sentence is also problematic from another perspective: It reflects just how crazy sentencing has gotten in the U.S., and shows why we have the largest actual and per capita prison population on the planet. 

“Politicians have ratcheted up sentences so much that ten years in prison no longer seems like a long time,” says Julie Stewart, founder of Families Against Mandatory Minimums and one of the most prominent advocates for sentencing reform. “This is all driven, of course, by the drug sentences Congress passed in 1986. And with drug sentences so high, punishment for other crimes had to be commensurate.” Read more