Hungry homeless man gets arrested intentionally

Associated Press Modified: May 1, 2012 at 3:17 pm •  Published: May 1, 2012
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COLUMBUS, Ga. (AP) — Lance Brown was hungry and homeless, so he decided to get thrown in jail by hurling a brick through a glass door at the Columbus courthouse building.

Brown, 36, spent nine months in jail before his April trial. On Tuesday, he was sentenced to another month behind bars, and three years of probation that includes a six-month stay in a halfway house.

Brown's case illustrates the struggle prosecutors face when dealing with homeless defendants who resort to crime to seek the safety of prison. They weigh whether to devote scarce resources to prosecuting a lower-level offense with the burden that comes with upholding the law and deterring others from breaking it.

Faced with more nights on the street, Brown said he thought lofting the brick through the building would give him at least a few hours in a place where "someone's going to offer me a sandwich and drink."

Robert Marbut, a national homelessness consultant, said it's rare for homeless offenders to spend more than a night in two in custody, let alone almost a year. He said there needs to be more alternative sentences to teach homeless offenders about life skills, hygiene and nutrition.

"That shows you how wacky things have gotten when we don't have as a society an intermediate program," Marbut said.

U.S. Attorney Michael Moore said he had little other choice than to charge Brown with malicious mischief, a crime that carried a 10-year maximum prison sentence.

"The unfortunate circumstances in which Mr. Brown found himself cannot be a justification for destroying property of the United States," Moore said. "And while I am personally saddened by Mr. Brown's plight, I regret that he chose to violate the law instead of taking help from those who offered it."

Brown was previously convicted of two bank robberies in North Carolina and released from prison in August 2010 after spending about 10 years behind bars. He headed to the courthouse in downtown Columbus in July with a strange request for his probation officer: He wanted to know what he could do to get back behind bars. The officer, Billy Johnston, offered him a list of social services, but it didn't take long for Brown to come up with his own idea.

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