Banishment becomes a prison substitute

Monday, October 22, 2001

SAVANNAH, Ga. -- Some on prosecutor Kelly Burke's list of 62 criminals have served jail time. Many have not. But he proudly puts them all under one heading: "BANNED."

Legalized exile is largely considered an anachronism, a pseudo-solution that merely makes one jurisdiction's convict somebody else's problem. Still, banishment persists in Georgia and Kentucky and possibly other states -- legal scholars don't keep track.

"I do it all the time. I love it," said Burke, district attorney for Houston County, near Macon. "We banish people frequently. You need to have a logical reason why you're doing it. Legally, I can do it whenever the judge agrees with me."

Banishing criminals from their home communities has been a part of crime and punishment since the beginnings of written law, dating back to the ancient Greeks and Romans.

"Nationwide, banishment -- which used to be a very popular punishment -- has pretty much vanished from the scene," said Donald E. Wilkes, a law professor at the University of Georgia. "Probably there's more of this in Georgia than any other state."

Those on Burke's list, which is on his Web site, are currently banned from his county. They have been convicted of crimes ranging from shoplifting to stalking, drunken driving to drug dealing.

It is not known how many Georgia offenders have been banished. The punishment generally lasts for the length of an offender's probation.

Marc Mauer of The Sentencing Project, a Washington-based group that advocates alternatives to prison, said banishment is "pretty far out there in terms of normal practice."

"You go back to the Colonial period where you had the stocks and whipping posts, you also had people banished from the community to show its outrage," Mauer said. "Just because it was used 250 years ago doesn't mean it's a good idea today."

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