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Should 81-year-old woman be held in jail for feeding birds?

We know that laws are in place to keep people safe and protect our rights as U.S. citizens. However, that does not mean that people always understand or agree with the laws or that the legal system should not still be challenged when appropriate. There may also be reasons to confront unfair sentencing practices when the punishment may not fit the crime.

For example, in one state, there is a law against feeding wild animals. Residents are not supposed to do this because it can attract dangerous wildlife that would otherwise stay away from people. The law is in place to keep people safe, but should a violation of this law automatically result in jail time? This is the question people are asking after an 81-year-old woman with Alzheimer's was put in jail for this offense. 

Authorities report that the elderly woman was putting herself and her neighbors in danger by leaving food outside of her home for bears. She did this so frequently that at least one bear had become quite comfortable approaching the woman's home, expecting the food. Police issued warnings and ultimately arrested the woman for feeding wild animals in January. She spent one week in jail and was released after being told not to feed any more wild animals.

Recently, police checking up on the woman found bread outside her home. The woman said it was to feed the birds, but authorities only saw this as a violation of court orders and arrested her again. She is being held in jail again, despite a medical evaluation indicating that the woman is suffering from dementia and Alzheimer's.

The response in this case seems to be quite heavy-handed. Of course people should be expected to comply with court orders, and those who do not should be prepared to face the consequences. However, in this case, it seems clear that the woman has cognitive deficiencies that could be affecting her memory and perhaps her ability to comprehend the consequences of dangerous or unlawful actions. Throwing her in jail does not seem to be the most appropriate solution to this issue.

While New Yorkers may not have to worry about wild animals in the city, we should be worried about people who may be victims of unfair and overly harsh criminal charges and penalties.

Source: The Huffington Post, "Mary Musselman, Elderly Woman With Dementia Jailed For Feeding Crows: Attorney," March 5, 2014

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