Last September, outside of an Austin, Texas Sears store, Willie James Sauls snatched a purse off the arm of an 84 year-old woman and fled. That's fucked up. This week, a state district judge sentenced Sauls to 45 years in prison for his crime. That is far more fucked up.

Forty five years. That is more time than Sauls, 37, has spent on this planet to date. The justification for the sentence, via the Austin American-Statesman:

Prosecutors Geoffrey Puryear and Amy Meredith said Sauls has previous convictions for retaliation and robbery and is a street gang member.

In arguing for a long sentence, Puryear said he noted that Sauls has been to prison and "already had chances to address the issues with his behavior."

Jesus Christ (remember that guy, Texans? Preached forgiveness and compassion?), there must be some sense of proportion in criminal sentencing, or you delegitimize the entire practice. The worst thing about sentencing a man to 45 years in prison for a purse snatching is that it's an outrage to fundamental human decency and justice. Another bad thing about, somewhere farther down the line, is that you create a set of incentives for people to do even worse crimes, because the punishments are so severe for mild crimes. If you're gonna get 45 years for purse snatching, why not just kill the witness, while you're at it? Why not rob a bank instead? The penalty if you're caught won't be much worse.

This same combination of outrageous injustice and practical imbecility applies to "Three Strikes" laws as well. But Texas doesn't even need the pretext of a mandatory tough-on-crime sentence. They'll lock you up and throw away the key just out of pure meanness. To sentence a 37 year-old man to 45 years in prison is to effectively declare that rehabilitation is a farce, that people will never change, and that inflicting painful punishment is the driving purpose of the criminal justice system. A perfect embodiment of American prisons, really.

Don't ever be poor in Texas if you can possibly help it.

[Statesman via Cindy Casares. Photo: David Herrera/ Flickr]