Shock probation is a tool used at the discretion of judges and offered to first-time offenders, who serve a small portion of their prison sentence and serve the rest on probation.
The goal of shock probation is to give a first-time offender a taste of prison life and then give them a second chance, with the hope that the experience will dissuade them from committing another crime.
In theory, it seems like a reasonable idea. In practice, families who are impacted by the use of shock probation have spoken out against it.
The most vociferous debate arises when shock probation is offered to those who were involved in a crime that resulted in serious injury or death.
One person affected in such a way emailed me last week – Debbie Moskwa, the mother of a son killed in a car crash caused by drunk drivers. The following is from a story published by The Sentinel-News in Shelbyville.
“Moskwa’s husband, Ricky, and her son, also named Ricky, were driving on Interstate 71 in Gallatin County when the were struck by a speeding car driven by a drunk driver.
Her husband was injured and her son killed in a three-vehicle crash with two other drivers who were coming back from the Kentucky Derby. The drivers, Mathew Scott Burton, 49, and Vincent Rutledge, 31, had been drinking and were drag racing on the interstate, Moskwa said.
Rutledge hit a car in front of him, causing Burton to swerve, hitting the Moskwa car head-on. Burton’s passenger also died in the crash.
Burton and Rutledge originally were charged with murder but were given a plea agreement of second-degree manslaughter.
Both were given 13-year prison sentences and applied for shock probation. Senior Judge Stanley Billingsly denied it for Burton but granted shock probation for Rutledge who was released the next day, having served a total of eight months in jail.
“I just couldn’t believe they let him off like that,” Moskwa said. “It was such an insult to my son, and to my family,”
Moskwa says she thinks that a manslaughter charge related to a DUI death should most definitely be considered a violent offense, and in the 26 years since her son was killed, she has been working to put a halt to the practice in Kentucky.”
To me, it seems pretty simple. If a person is convicted of a crime that resulted in another person’s death, shock probation should be off the table.
More troubling than the fact that one of the convicted drivers was released from prison so early is the fact that others who have received shock probation committed crimes much worse than his. The same Sentinel-News story describes a mother who killed her newborn baby and was given shock probation, and another man who was convicted of murder after having been released on shock probation from another crime.
Advocates of shock probation argue that removing it as an option has a negative impact on judges’ authority. I think the way shock probation has been used in several instances is enough to bring into question how some judges have used that authority.
State Sen. Jack Westwood of Kenton has tried several times – each time unsuccessfully – to make legislative amendments to change the way shock probation is offered. In 2012, he says he will author a bill aimed at preventing a shock probation offer to anyone convicted of second degree manslaughter, reckless homicide and DUI-related homicide.
I understand a judge’s wish to give a first-time offender a second chance. I also understand that such an act prevents a family affected by that person’s crime from receiving the justice it deserves.
Bottom line is this: A person who commits a crime that ends another person’s life can apply to be released from prison after serving at least 30 days. First-time offender or not, that is wrong.
Justin McGill is general manager of The Cadiz Record and can be reached by email at firstname.lastname@example.org.