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Flathead Beacon, Kalispell, Montana, 30 January 2013

Columbia Falls Lawmaker Offers Pain Instead of Prison

Republican Rep. Jerry O'Neil is drafting the bill

By Matt Gouras
Associated Press

Click to enlarge

HELENA -- A Montana lawmaker says convicts should be allowed to get out of prison time if they instead agree to the "infliction of physical pain" -- an idea that so far is receiving a cool reception.

Republican Rep. Jerry O'Neil is drafting a bill that would allow those convicted of misdemeanors or felonies to negotiate corporal punishment instead of another sentence. The method used to inflict the pain would be decided by a judge.

The veteran lawmaker said Wednesday that he thinks long prison sentences are inhumane.

"Ten years in prison or you could take 20 lashes, perhaps two lashes a year? What would you choose?" O'Neil said.

He argued that the convict under his proposal could remain employed to pay restitution, and potentially save the corrections budget millions of dollars per year.

"It is actually more moral than we do now," O'Neil said of the lashings. "I think it's immoral to put someone in prison for a long time, to take them away from their family, and force that family to go on welfare."

The conservative Columbia Falls lawmaker made headlines earlier this session by seeking to get paid in gold and silver coins because he is skeptical about the future of the dollar.

His latest proposal isn't receiving a warm welcome. The House speaker's office noted that O'Neil bill was tied up in lengthy legal review and faces several hurdles.
"It's a citizen legislature and folks get to carry the bills they like on their own," said House Speaker Mark Blasdel, a restaurant owner from Somers.

House Minority Leader Chuck Hunter of Helena was speechless over a bill he said looks like it comes out of the 17th century.

"Wow," said Hunter.

The Montana ACLU, opposed to physical pain and corporal punishment, sympathized with the effort to reduce prison populations.

"We agree with Rep. O'Neil that our state needs to find alternatives to over-incarceration and lengthy jail and prison sentences that are ineffective and costly, but we don't agree that corporal punishment is the solution," said Niki Zupanic, the group's public policy director.

"We support reducing sentences and increasing our investment in community corrections alternatives. We need to put more and better options on the table, but corporal punishment is not one of them."

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