VIRGINIA BEACH-Two Va. Beach contractors in meter enforcement uniforms were caught red-handed last summer, pocketing about $750 in change from Oceanfront parking meters.
Christopher Williams and Mark Apperson pleaded guilty to felony charges and were ordered to pay back the money. Williams also got four months in jail; Apperson got two.
"We believe the case was serious, the charges were serious, their conduct was serious," Commonwealth's Attorney Harvey Bryant said. "They took money that belonged to the city. They were in a position of trust."
The punishment for these two non-violent offenders now will cost taxpayers even more. In a city where residents just saw their taxes raised and where firefighters claim they're understaffed, residents will pay $13,000 to keep the men in jail.
"Is it expensive? Yes. Is it important to public safety for people to see that there are consequences for criminal acts? Yes. And I think the people of Virginia and Virginia Beach are willing to pay that price," Bryant stated.
Taxpayers are divided on the decision.
"I would rather pay my money to keep them in there. I'm fine with that," one resident said.
"$13,000 just to house them for six months to give these guys a smack on the wrist? No. Community service would be enough," one resident countered.
That's the opinion of most American in a national poll. Most say they do not want to pay to keep non-violent offenders locked up.
Dr. Barry Krisberg is a nationally-recognized expert on crime and punishment issues.
"I call this the criminal justice full employment program," Krisberg said.
Krisberg says the U.S. spends millions, as much as $8 million a day in 2008, to jail non-violent offenders and there's no evidence it's a deterrent.
Krisberg says there are better options like probation or electronic bracelets and that expensive jail cells should be saved for more violent offenders.
"We want them punished, but we want them punished in a smart way," Krisberg added.
Virginia Beach had limited options to punish Williams and Apperson. Williams has a list of prior offenses and did not qualify for weekend jail. Home monitoring was eliminated by the sheriff to try and cut costs.
As for whether jail time for these guys will be a deterrent, Bryant said Williams has had too many slaps on the wrist, making some time behind bars this time worth the cost.
"If punishment is not a deterrent, then we are wasting our time and we've been wasting our time for 200 years," he said.