culture, politics, commentary, criticism

Saturday, February 22, 2003
Burning down the country. Terry Lynn Barton, the US Forest Service worker who burned down 138,000 acres of Colorado last summer, has received a
6-year sentence for her crime. She eventually admitted starting the fire herself while burning a letter from her estranged husband.

A 6-year sentence for destroying a big chunk of Colorado over a "Dear John" letter sounds a little light, doesn’t it?

She's not the only one going to jail for using a non-childproof lighter on flammable wildlife:

Burning Crimes

Perpetrator Terry Lynn Barton US Marijuana Users
Position US Forest Service Various
Crime Igniting Colorado
forest wildfire
Igniting bong
and/or spliff
Acres Burned 138,000 0
Homes Destroyed 133 0
Cost of Damage $38 million $0
Cost of Firefighting
and Restoration
$14.7 million $0
Prison Sentence 6 years* 77,572 years**
*Sentencing on her state charge on March 5 could bring her sentence up to 12 years.

**This estimate totals federal, state and local marijuana arrests multiplied by average possession sentences as listed here. The same report estimates that 12.7 percent of all federal prisoners are incarcerated for marijuana offenses. Therefore, the costs to incarcerate these prisoners could easily be saved — perhaps an increasingly viable option as our economy worsens.
To put it very, very mildly, these are disproportionate sentences. If I owned one of the 133 homes she destroyed, I would wonder why our justice system is so kind to her and so punitive to people who don't destroy property and wildlife.

And to look at it from another angle, for Barton to have received a sentence proportionate to all US marijuana offenders, she would have had to burn down 1.8 billion acres (1,784,156,000 to be exact), or about 2.8 million square miles, using 138,000 acres per 6-year sentence as our benchmark. This is approximately the area of
the 48 contiguous US states.

In other words, to keep pace with marijuana sentencing, Terry Lynn Barton would have had to burn down the entire country.

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