Pollard and three strikes

Pollard and three strikes

The Jewish world is nearly unanimous in calling for the release of Jonathan Jay Pollard, the onetime civilian analyst for the U.S. Navy who was convicted in 1987 of espionage and given a life sentence. Indeed, President Shimon Peres sent a letter to President Barack Obama urging that Pollard be freed.

Pollard is not some longtime master spy for an enemy who would destroy this country, although such a claim was made by the Reagan-Bush admnistration. The allegation subsequently was shown to be false.

Pollard was not spying for an enemy. He was spying for an ally: Israel.

That does not excuse his crime – and, as we have said before, it was and remains an inexcusable crime – but it does raise questions about why he received so harsh a sentence.

A sentence such as Pollard received is unheard of for someone guilty of spying for an ally. The average sentence before Pollard was arrested and since his incarceration is seven years. Pollard has been in prison for nearly 26 years. No one has ever explained why he received so harsh a sentence. No one has ever explained what it is that keeps that sentence in place.

We agree that the ailing Pollard should be allowed to walk out of prison, rather than be carried out in a coffin. We also hope that Pollard’s release will be made a campaign issue by Jewish groups as the presidential and congressional election seasons begin in earnest.

Our hope for justice for Jonathan Jay Pollard, however, will sound even more sincere if we as a community also demand an end to other injustices of the justice system. There are people in jail for life – for life – for such crimes as “stealing” a dollar’s worth of soda. Why? Because states over the years enacted what is known as the “three strikes law.” If you have been convicted of a crime for the third time, regardless of how trivial a crime or the motive behind it, you are put away for life.

There is some justification for this, but without allowing for judicial flexibility, injustices are certain to occur.

In some states, there are mandatory sentencing guidelines imposed on judges that require them to incarcerate someone convicted of a crime for a set – and long – period of time even if the crime was trivial or the evidence suggests mitigating circumstances.

We need to demand justice for Pollard, but it may be better received if we demanded that the justice system be just.