The courts of Philadelphia sent a powerful message last week.
Steven Holmes, a 19-year-old man who lives just east of Main Campus, has been sentenced to 15 to 30 years in prison, followed by 27 years of probation, for the assault of a Temple student in Anderson Hall last year.
The victim, whose identity has been protected, was in Anderson Nov. 1, 2007, when Holmes grabbed her from behind, beat her, choked her and sexually assaulted her. She was in attendance during Holmes’ sentencing.
Common Pleas Judge Karen Shreeves-Johns issued a somewhat surprising sentence to Holmes, who also had a juvenile criminal record. For the victim, no particular term can match the physical and psychological trauma she experienced, but a potential sentence of 57 years is significant in this case.
Philadelphia – and the area surrounding Temple – has seen an increase in violent crimes recently, even though the murder rate is down. Many influences, including the poor economy, can be attributed as causes for this scenario. But with this sentence, the city now faces a double-edged sword.
To create stricter penalties for crimes less than murder and manslaughter would send a powerful message to would-be or repeat offenders. This can also send a positive signal to the city’s inhabitants, who may feel safer on the streets.
Continuation of such strict sentencing, however, would ask for more work from the city. This would include more police on the streets and upkeep – and perhaps construction – of prisons. The city is facing a large deficit right now, and Mayor Michael Nutter is attempting to balance the budget. A redistribution of funds can help the city where it needs it most.
Shreeves-Johns admitted in court she did not know “where [the justice system] failed,” referring to how Holmes remained on the streets with a lengthy criminal past. But her message through his sentencing is a message that should be seen as precedent.
We live in a city where many would-be offenders already have a criminal past. Due to overcrowding in the prisons or being sentenced by a lenient judge, these offenders are released to the streets, where they are likely to commit more crimes.
In order to maintain safety in the streets during an unsure time, more judges in the Philadelphia system should follow the lead of Shreeves-Johns, and the city should do its best to accommodate the changes.
Crimes of all severity should be considered with a careful eye by judges. Keeping criminals off the street would undoubtedly create a safer city and a Philadelphia with a purer reputation.