Mobile County DA Ashley Rich is fired up! She's upset that a man convicted of six felonies and given a life sentence, is about to get out of prison after only three years.
Sounds outrageous, right? Before you answer, keep reading.
Because when I first saw the headline from our media partner Local 15 News, I admit to thinking this is the criminal justice system run amok. But then I read the story.
Jerry Harrison was convicted in 2014 for selling marijuana. This was his sixth felony offense, and he was sentenced to life as a repeat offender. Previous felonies were for things like marijuana and cocaine possession, and felony probation violation. The Alabama Parole and Pardons Board sees Jerry Harrison as a non-violent offender, with a "moderate" risk of re-offending. In other words, there's a moderate risk that the 36-year-old will smoke or sell pot again at some point.
My suggestion to Jerry would be that he moves to a state like Colorado or Washington once released, where pot is entirely legal and advertised on billboards -- and yes, I've even heard ads on the radio. He could even open a pot-selling business.
Marijuana is illegal in Alabama, and in most states of this nation. It's illegal in federal law, as well. But there is also real debate in this country over whether marijuana should be legal for recreational use, for medical use, or not at all. Most people are starting to believe that it's not a matter of if marijuana will be legalized, but when.
Not long ago, Mayor Sandy Stimpson proposed a measure to decriminalize marijuana possession. You'd get a ticket, not a jail sentence. And yes, it would still be illegal. The mayor thought it would help police spend less time on petty offenses, and more on bigger crimes.
The parole board is part of a bigger, overcrowded state prison system. They made a choice based on the needs of the system (for more room) and the non-violent status of Jerry Harrison.
So, a fair question: Does the punishment fit the crime? Should Jerry Harrison spend the rest of his life in prison for crimes mainly centered around marijuana possession? Or did the parole board make the right decision and decide that three years was enough.
Harrison will soon be released from Holman Prison in Atmore, and will then spend up to one year at a halfway house in the Greater Birmingham area.
CLICK HERE to read the story or watch Andrea Ramey's report.
[Photo: Jerry Harrison, via Local 15 TV]