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May 3, 2009

Banishment a popular (but uneven?) special punishment in Georgia

As detailed in this effective local article, headlined "More than 500 people have been banished from Houston County," one Georgia county makes banishment a (semi)regular punishment for certain offenders.  Here are the particulars:

More than 500 people have been banished in Houston County since 1998 when the District Attorney’s Office started tracking this sentencing option.  Still, that’s about one out of every 60 cases, comparing the 500 banishments to more than 30,000 cases for the same time frame, said Houston County District Attorney Kelly Burke....

Keeping a person out of the county where the crime was committed during the probationary period may actually help the offender, Burke said.  For example, banishment disrupts the network of a drug abuser or dealer, breaking the cycles of addiction and the criminal activity of buying and selling, Burke said.  “I believe banishment really works,” Burke said. “It provides a chance to get your life straight while on probation.”

In the case of domestic violence, often the victim doesn’t want the abuser to go to jail but to simply be left alone, Burke said.  Banishment gives the victim peace of mind that they can safely go to a restaurant or to a child’s soccer game without the offender showing up and claiming they didn’t know the victim was at the restaurant or the game — a common scenario that plays out in restraining orders, Burke said....

Jim Rockefeller, a criminal defense attorney in Warner Robins, said banishment can be a useful tool with someone who is involved in some sort of network of gang activity or drug dealers. However, wholesale use of banishment would result in simply shuffling people around the state, he said.  Also, if wrongly used, banishment can set up a person for failure by cutting them off from positive networks such as families and jobs, Rockefeller said.

Rockefeller said he believes it would be appropriate for the state General Assembly to develop uniform guidelines on the use of banishment. Another option that judges might consider would be requiring banishment consideration to be part of arguments during sentencing hearings, rather than part of negotiated pleas among prosecutors and defense attorneys, Rockefeller said.

In neighboring Bibb County, banishment is rare. “We have done it a few times since I’ve been in office but not a whole lot,” Bibb County District Attorney Howard Simms said.  “Some of our judges don’t like it.” Simms said he also has problems himself with the enforceability of banishment and other issues it creates, such as with child custody.

Superior Court Judge S. Phillip Brown said there are some practical considerations of why banishment wouldn’t work on a broad-based approach or as a routine matter.  What about doctor’s appointments, for example?, Brown said.  His concern is that banishment may set up an offender for failure when the justice system should encourage success.

With 500 cases of banishment over a fairly long period in a single Georgia country, we should be able to move past anecdote and be able to collect some empirical evidence about whether banishment is an effective sentencing provision for certain classes of offenders.  I fear that no serious banishment studies are underway, but this would be a valuable and important opportunity from criminology or sociology grad students looking to make a real impact with some ground-level research.

May 3, 2009 at 10:23 AM | Permalink


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Breaking up networks is part of why the altered sentencing scheme I've described before moves those spared from death to some place far from the location of the offense.

I agree it would be interesting to have actual data on how well it works.

Posted by: Soronel Haetir | May 3, 2009 11:10:29 AM

Living costs in ghettos are not low. The lawyer has herded crime into them, making them lifestyle communities. As you might ponder, golf or marina living, they choose crime friendly living. They wake up at 10 PM, and start screaming, fighting, and cursing for the rest of the night. In other areas, if the police did not hassle them enough to make them stop, the neighbors would rezone them with a flic of a Bic (lighter).

In these crime lifestyle communities, the Roman Orgy lifestyle starts at age 12. It is so compelling, fun, and profitable, school is a nuisance distraction that cuts into the business.

The police does not respond. When they drive by, they expect the dealers to show respect by putting their illegal drugs away, then resume after the police is gone. The Wire, based on the experiences of a Baltimore journalist, even had an episode like that, depicting a misunderstanding as to where drug sales were permissible that week. It is not worth investigating any murder really hard. Spend weeks of hard work to find the murderer? The murderer has been murdered, already.

If only 1 in 100 crimes gets punished elsewhere, it is possible 1 in a 1000 crimes does in those areas. On a street separating these areas from neighboring suburbs, a drug dealer will refuse to cross the street to the other side. He knows, on the slum side, there is no risk. On the suburb side, there is a high chance of going to jail.

So banishment is an every day common experience. It is called living in the ghetto.

Posted by: Supremacy Claus | May 3, 2009 2:24:21 PM

This is not lawyer bashing, mostly. Enjoy it.

If crime were to end in the inner city, it is walking distance to work, downtown. The value of property in that area would shoot up. The value of suburban property would drop accordingly. Although the lawyer caused bastardy, and promoted crime, the average suburban home owner will seek to maintain the high crime rate as it is.

Posted by: Supremacy Claus | May 3, 2009 10:51:55 PM

Soronel Haetir: I would disagree with your conception of banishment and equating it with residing in the ghetto. People are not banished to a ghetto; they are born there or the family moves there because it is the only place they can afford to live. What you have described is a combination of complacency, corruption, apathy, and a resignation that this is how life should be lived. I think you need to redefine what you have observed and put those views in their proper perspective.

Banishment is much more than what you think it is; it can be a permanent displacement from one's family and originating community or it could be for a period of time. In either case, banishment is a sentence pronounced by law; residency in a ghetto is often by choice.

Posted by: CJM | Oct 22, 2010 10:35:46 AM

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