Strange Case Raises Troubling Questions

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The disconcerting case of Sherri Lynn Dashney harbors painful lessons for policy makers. The mother of four received a 19-year prison sentence in Gila County Superior Court for forging two checks totaling $5,000, while already on probation for fraud.

Incredibly enough, she forged checks so she could pay the court $5,000 restitution from four earlier fraud charges.

Now, one can perhaps sympathize with Judge Peter Cahill’s dilemma in sentencing the 38-year-old Payson woman. She had already served months in jail on the earlier fraud convictions. Out on probation facing a bill for $30,000 in restitution, she made yet one more incredibly dumb move. She stole some blank checks and forged two checks to herself totaling $5,000. She then wrote another check to the court to cover a restitution payment. However, the forged checks bounced — and so did the check she wrote to the court.

Certainly, the crime ranks up there in the Stupid Criminal Trick Hall of Fame. Clearly, she wasn’t getting the message from the mess she’d already made.

Still, does a 19-year prison sentence make any sense?

Mind you, the U.S. now locks up a larger percentage of its population than almost any nation on earth. The number of prison inmates has doubled in the past 20 years, according to a study by the PEW Foundation. That dramatic rise reflects the impact of changes in sentencing requirements that have increased the amount of time the average inmate spends in prison by about 36 percent.

The nation now spends about $57 billion annually on locking people up. Arizona has one of the highest incarceration rates in the country — which might explain why the Legislature this year cut spending on schools but added $51 million to the budget for private prisons.

At about $22,000 per year, Arizona taxpayers will spend $418,000 locking up Sherri Lynn Dashney.

The PEW study credits the longer sentences with about one-quarter of the crime drop in recent decades, after digging into the numbers. The benefit is even smaller when it comes to non-violent criminals, which account for a majority of inmates.

But fear not: The state will keep you safe from the ineffectual schemes of Sherri Lynn Dashney for the next couple of decades. You can rest easy — soon as you pay your tax bill to keep her locked up all that while.

The no-show voters

The one-and-only Payson schools candidates debate Monday had just about everything: Eight eager candidates; creative ideas; conflict and disagreement; engaged, interested students; vital issues.

Heck, it lacked just one thing: Voters in the audience.

Alas, hardly anyone showed up for their one chance to hear a record crop of candidates grapple with the pressing problems facing our schools — and therefore this whole community.

Rim Country cannot thrive if our schools dwindle. We cannot attract new businesses, we cannot train a workforce, we cannot remain a vital, creative, energetic adaptable community.

Our schools face grave challenges — starting with declining enrollment and state budget cuts. Rim Country families also face mounting economic struggles, which impact their children and our schools.

The candidates themselves have responded with energy and creativity, with nine candidates contending for three seats. All too often, no one bothers to contest school board seats. This time, voters can choose from a wealth of candidates. We have an incumbent defending her record, a laid-off teacher crusading for fairness and rigor, a wealth of retired teachers advocating for students, businessmen advocating budget restraint and parents.

Granted, the sheer number of candidates prevented the debate from getting into the gritty details that will dictate the sometimes no-win choices the next board must confront. Should the district sell of shuttered Frontier Elementary School? How will the district overhaul its curriculum to meet national standards, with no textbooks and no money for training? How can the district reverse the alarming rise in elementary school class sizes, which flies in the face of all the research as to how to improve student achievement? How can the district restore teacher morale in the face of years of pay freezes and capricious layoffs?

The candidates all grappled earnestly with these questions — but hardly any voters showed up to listen.

We can only hope that voters will focus on this vital race in the weeks left before the election. We’ll do our best to keep you informed — and you can check the candidate profiles in our election special section.

The students who staged the debate, the candidates who showed up and the teachers who have devoted their lives to our children and therefore the future have all done their part.

Now it’s up to us.

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