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EDITORIAL: Steal $33 worth of underwear, go to prison for 10 years

Cook County's Leighton Criminal Court building. | Sun-Times files

When a homeless drug addict steals some underwear, what’s the right punishment?

Ten years behind bars, according to a Cook County judge who handed down the sentence to David Lundy for stealing four packs of underwear, worth $33.25, from a Family Dollar Store in 2015.


From beginning to end, this story is one more reminder that it’s the David Lundys of the world — impoverished, usually black or brown, and sometimes drug abusers — who, after committing the pettiest of crimes, get slapped with prison time instead of slapped on the wrist.

The public pays the price, too. It will cost taxpayers $38,000 a year to keep Lundy locked up. And he’s not likely to receive any treatment to help him quit cycling in and out of prison for petty crimes, either, as Jennifer Vollen-Katz of the John Howard Association, a prison reform group, told us.

“People are warehoused when they’re in the Department of Corrections. That’s just a fact,” she said. “An increased sentence doesn’t mean increased access to treatment.”

Given the circumstances, Lundy, who was 50 at the time of his offense, faced a minimum of six years. He threatened two employees with a box cutter, though one worker brushed it off as “not that upsetting” and the second worker admitted she never saw the knife. Lundy’s long rap sheet of drug offenses and robberies didn’t help matters either.

His lawyers appealed the sentence as excessive, but a divided Illinois Appellate Court panel nevertheless upheld it, according to an Injustice Watch report published by the Sun-Times.

Judge Michael B. Hyman, in his dissenting opinion, summed up matters eloquently.

He noted one case in which a repeat sex offender and burglar who had two 25-year sentences each reduced to six years on appeal. Lundy, meanwhile, would serve 10 years for a crime that was “an act of desperation and not much more.”

“On the scale of petty offenses, this one ranks close to rock bottom,” Hyman continued. “What societal interest is served by punishing petty mischief with a grossly disproportionate sentence, almost twice the minimum, especially when the defendant, like Lundy, is poor, homeless and addicted?”

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