In a bizarre clerical error, a man convicted of robbery never saw the inside of the cell he was supposed to occupy. Cornealious “Mike” Anderson waited for his day to come. The sentence was given and he was ready to turn himself in, only Anderson never heard back from court officials. He contacted his attorney and still heard nothing.
Over 13 years later, when Anderson’s sentence was due to end, authorities realized he had never been in their care. In an attempt to correct the error, U.S. marshals picked him up at his home and took him to the facility in which he should have spent the last 13 years.
However, it turned out that after his courtroom scare, Anderson turned straight. He started a business, got married (twice), had three children, and even volunteered as a coach. He became an exemplary citizen without having served any time.
After hearing the unusual circumstances, the Missouri Judge decided Anderson deserved credit for the “time served.” The time he was supposed to be in prison, according to the judge, now counts toward his sentence, essentially freeing him without jail time.
The current criminal system attempts to serve several purposes: incapacitation, retribution, deterrence, and rehabilitation. The fact of incarceration prevents the offender from committing further crimes during the sentence. Retribution looks to punish the offender ostensibly based on the seriousness of the crime. Deterrence is set to deter people from committing crimes in response to the threat of punishment. The rehabilitative goal is to reform the offender into a law-abiding citizen. One of the most common occurrences to imprisonment is recidivism. Within 3 years of release, according to the Bureau of Justice Statistics, almost 50% of persons released are re-incarcerated.
In Anderson’s case, it seems just the thought of a 13 year sentence scared him straight. Though nothing like this has happened in Phoenix (at least, to the best of our knowledge), surely it would produce a similar result. Anderson turned his life around and became an upstanding, productive member of society. His success in life may have been due to the fact that he did not go to prison. In fact, not being incarcerated may have been what prevented him from returning to prison later in life. There was no need for him to resort to a life of crime once he was released. Many convicted persons resort to criminal behavior upon release because they have no other way to support themselves. Justice would not have been served to put him behind bars after 13 years and such a positive and successful life.