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Guest column

Righting injustice, not waiting for it, is our duty

Published December 5, 2005

Does injustice always win? Only your letters of support will bring justice.

It is so obvious, to so many of us, that Adam Bollenback's crime does not warrant the punishment. No way does a 16-year-old juvenile stealing a six pack of beer from an open garage, in broad daylight, even if the law defines it is burglary of an occupied dwelling, deserve a sentence of 10 years in adult prison.

Juveniles who have murdered have received lesser sentences.

Another sentencing example is that of U.S. Rep. Randy "Duke" Cunningham, an eight-term congressman and Vietnam War fighter pilot, who admitted taking $2.4-million in bribes. He could get up to 10 years in prison at sentencing on federal charges of conspiracy to commit bribery and fraud, and tax evasion.

Wow, up to 10 years.

And yet, after 40 months, Adam, who is bipolar and has an ADHD mental disorder, is still in prison. What is wrong?

I believe that in this world there are three types of people: Those who make it happen, those who watch it happen, and those who say, "What happened?"

What happened in Adam's case is that he did steal the beer. This was the mischievous act of a 16-year-old who had no intent to harm anyone. He went to court, where he was considered an adult.

Months earlier, Adam had been charged as an adult for theft of a bag of potato chips from his school lunchroom. This charge was dropped, but according to the law, once charged as an adult, you cannot be charged as a juvenile.

Adam went before Circuit Judge Ric Howard who admitted that he was using Adam as a teaching tool in front of other juvenile offenders. The result was a sentence of 10 years in prison.

This was a legal sentence in the sense that it was within the sentencing guidelines for the crime of burglary of an occupied dwelling. But was it right? Justice was not well served.

For 40 months, one-third of the 10-year sentence, we have watched the newspapers for this ridiculous and notorious situation to be resolved. The newspaper staffs have written so many fine articles, trying to make us aware of the extent of mental illness needs and the problem of juveniles in prison.

But the newspaper's function is only to watch it happen and to report, so we the people are aware and can do something.

Who is supposed to make it happen? Who can correct this injustice?

Only the governor has the power to act. Our legislators create the laws but leave it to the courts to interpret.

After a year and a half in prison, a request was sent to have Adam's case reviewed. It was denied, stating that a minimum of serving two years was required before review. Within months, Adam was stabbed in the neck with an ice pick by a fellow inmate.

A second request for clemency was sent in November 2003, requesting review of the case in fear that Adam would not make the two-year requirement. The case is now set for a Clemency Review meeting on Dec. 15 in Tallahassee.

There are rules to be followed and procedures to go through. I believe that rules and the process, however, are made for the usual sentences. Leaders are chosen to do what is right, especially when the rules or guidelines should not apply and injustice wins.

Judges have the discretion to deviate from the sentencing guidelines. This did not happen in Adam's case. So, what can we do?

If the Clemency Review committee renders an "unfavorable" recommendation for release, Adam will spend another three years in prison, from the date of denial, before the next request for clemency can be submitted. Then add the process time before the hearing.

Just how much blood does the justice system demand for stealing a six-pack of beer?

Like many of you, I am just one of "we the people" who want this situation corrected and Adam released. But only if the voice of the people is heard will this happen. Just don't ask, "What happened?" or "watch what happens" in the newspapers to see what they can do. Choose to make the difference.

As one of "we the people," you have the opportunity to "make it happen."

Criminalization of youth with mental health conditions is a nationwide problem, but Adam is our local example of being incarcerated rather than receiving treatment. I believe:

--that juveniles should not be sent to an adult prison unless, as intended, a major crime has been committed;

--that mental health treatment is a better alternative to jail;

--that Adam has served more than enough time for his crime and should come home to Citrus County.

If you agree, please send a signed letter saying you support Adam to the National Alliance for Mental Illness (NAMI), P.O. Box 641312, Beverly Hills, FL 34465.

Your letters will be presented at the Dec. 15 Clemency Review meeting, where we hope that justice will finally prevail and Adam Bollenback will be released.

--Ron Lundberg is the advocacy chairman on the board of directors for the Citrus County chapter of NAMI. Guest columnists write their own views on subjects they choose, which do no necessarily reflect the opinions of this newspaper.

[Last modified December 5, 2005, 03:00:29]

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