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Non-violent criminals deserve prison time

WEST Virginia legislators approved a prison reform bill that is aimed at reducing costs, easing overcrowding and improving the recidivism rate for people released from prison.

The plan is patterned after one used in Texas, a state hardly known for being soft on crime.

Some have suggested that West Virginia go further and not incarcerate nonviolent criminals. The case of Deborah S. Starks, 55, of Cross Lanes, shows the error of that way.

Starks embezzled more than $300,000 over a six-year period as treasurer of Multifest, an annual community event that her husband founded more than 20 years ago.

Her actions put the popular multi-cultural festival held on the statehouse grounds in jeopardy. Once donors learned that so much money had been stolen, they were reluctant to continue their support.

She also failed to report about a half-million in income, including the embezzled loot, to the IRS during this period.

Starks pleaded guilty to charges related to her embezzlement in January.

At her sentencing on Tuesday before U.S. District Judge John Copenhaver, she pleaded for mercy, pointing out that she is the primary caregiver for a young grandchild and for her husband. She also said she had been addicted to gambling.

That may be true, but she also is addicted to taking other people's money. Her record includes three convictions for passing worthless checks and 16 other instances in which charges were dismissed.

Copenhaver sentenced her to 21 months in prison followed by one year of supervised release. He regretted that under federal law he could not give her a longer supervision period.

He ordered her to pay $250 a month in restitution, but at that rate it will take her 143 years to pay Multifest and the IRS what she owes them.

Starks might not have hurt anyone physically, but she did a lot of damage to others and harmed a local institution.

Sending her to prison may or may not rehabilitate her.

At the very least, her prison sentence will mean that for 21 months she will not be embezzling money or passing worthless checks. Society also requires the deterrent effect of a prison sentence for such a crime.  


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