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Assessing The True Costs

Of Animal Cruelty

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The FBI Has Classified Animal Cruelty As a Top-Tier Felony and While Animal Cruelty Needs To Be Taken Seriously, That May Be a Bit Too Serious


By Ryan Scott
Modern Times Magazine

Animal cruelty is a big problem in the United States, not only in private situations in the home but it extends to big business as well on farms and in industry. According to organizations like The Humane Society, so much animal cruelty and abuse goes unreported and numbers are so scarce that it is difficult to even gather proper statistics on how much of these such crimes actually take place.

The FBI has noticed and is looking to make changes that will help agencies around the country be able to better classify, and therefore track, these cases. As of late last year, the FBI began classifying all animal cruelty cases as Group A felonies, along with murder and arson.

Prior to this, such cases were designated by “other,” lumped in with other lesser crimes. The idea behind this reclassification is to help agencies around the country to better gather information on these types of crimes and create more cohesiveness.

“If every agency in the United States classifies them in the way that the FBI is recommending, then that data can be brought forward because everything we're doing right now is based on a 15-year-old study by some agencies throughout the U.S., but not all of them,” said Mike Duffey, Animal Cruelty Investigator for the Humane Society of Southern Arizona.

Duffey has been with HSSAZ for 15 years and has felt that there has been a need for a long time for a way for states to be united and be able to report these types of cases.

“Some of us have been pushing the FBI for about the last 15 years to figure out a way that all agencies in the U.S. can report these cases the same so that they can really get an accurate idea about how often people that are killing animals might end up becoming a school yard shooter,” Duffey said.

As Duffey points out, often times those that are cruel to animals go on to commit violent crimes against humans as well. That is one of the primary reasons that the FBI and other agencies are interested in gathering information on such crimes and why it is being classified with other such heinous crimes.

“Since I began law enforcement in 1973 I've been aware that there is a direct link between those people that abuse animals and those people that abuse other people in their life, whether it's a domestic partner or just a guy down the street,” Duffey said.

Though it makes sense that it would be in the public’s best interest for these agencies to have good data on these crimes, what is potentially concerning is lumping all such crimes in with the worst crimes that one can commit in our society.

This change is in the early stages, but it does seem as though this could lead to the law being able to paint with an overly broad brush when it comes to crimes against animals.

Certain crimes carry what are known as mandatory minimum sentences, whereby the sentence that is carried out for particular crimes requires a minimum number of years in prison regardless of the situation. This type of mandatory sentencing can be very harsh on a case-by-case basis.

Animal cruelty may be a crime that winds up with minimum sentences in the future, and people need to think about what this really means. Yes, animal cruelty needs to be dealt with more swiftly than it is currently being dealt with. However, this may not be the right way to go about it.

According to a study done by The Price of Prisons, the average cost for taxpayers to incarcerate an inmate per year is $24,805 as of January 2012. According to the Florida Department of Corrections, the average person convicted of murder will serve a little more than 20 years in prison.

So what does that mean? Well it means if animal cruelty starts being sentenced in a similar fashion to murder, it will become very expensive for the taxpayer. This is not to say that the crimes shouldn’t be looked at, and that people shouldn’t be punished to a reasonable extent. What it really comes down to what benefits society as a whole.

According to Greg Pratt, an economics professor at Mesa Community College, these things need to be looked at on a cost/benefit scale and in the case of many crimes in his opinion, typically the cost to society is greater than the benefit.

Instead of long term incarceration, those that commit these crimes should certainly serve a sentence, but also become rehabilitated and hopefully provide some benefit to society upon rehabilitation as opposed to sitting in jail and costing taxpayers a lot of money that could be used in other places.

Take the famous example of Michael Vick, former Atlanta Falcons quarterback. In 2007, Vick was convicted of felony animal cruelty charges for running interstate dog fighting. After serving jail time and paying a small fortune in fines, Vick was released and went on to start several charities and become a voice against animal cruelty.

Even if these acts were simply to help his public image after it was tarnished, the fact of the matter is he still managed to do more good out of prison than he possibly could have while in prison.

The idea that animal abusers would face severe punishment for their crimes is one that animal rights activists like Amanda Smith support wholeheartedly.

“I feel that all animal cruelty offenders should go to prison, if that means taxpayers have to pay for this to happen then, yes. The best way to handle this situation is the same way they would handle any other person who committed a crime, find them and prosecute them,” Smith said.

It is inexcusable that so many animal cruelty cases go unreported or unprosecuted as it stands, and that certainly needs to be corrected. However, that doesn’t mean with this particular issue we should make the same mistakes that we seem to be making with others.

Ryan Scott is a contributor to Modern Times Magazine. He lives in Mesa.
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