Opinion

55 years in prison for e-mails and phone calls?

The criminalization of mental illness — i.e., the imprisonment of individuals with a mental illness for behavior that is a symptom of their illness — is a damaging, and increasing trend. Daniel Jason is just one of tens of thousands of individuals trapped by it.

Handsome, with an athletic build but a gaze that can make him appear lost, Daniel has Asperger Syndrome. A developmental disorder (on the autism spectrum), Asperger Syndrome makes it difficult for Daniel to communicate and socialize normally with others. Individuals with Asperger Syndrome want to form strong and loving relationships with others but don’t know how to do so. Their focus on something can become obsessive.

Those with Asperger Syndrome usually have normal or above average intelligence. In December 2005, Daniel graduated early from the University of Iowa with a Bachelor’s Degree in finance. The next year he entered the university’s graduate school of business. Daniel took $2,000 of his bar mitzvah money and made $120,000 by trading options online.

Unfortunately, Daniel’s first time dating did not go well. In late December 2005 or early January 2006, after about 11 months of dating, his girlfriend, a fellow student, ended their relationship. In emails, phone calls, and text messages, Daniel alternated between begging his ex-girlfriend to get back together and threatening to reveal personal secrets if she didn’t.

Arrested on March 30, 2007 for violating a protective order that his ex-girlfriend obtained against him, Daniel has spent most of his time since then in prison, even though he hasn’t committed any violent crimes.

On May 29, 2008, after unsuccessfully representing himself at trial, Daniel was sentenced to five years in prison for violating the protective order and two years for witness tampering. On December 1, 2010, Daniel was sentenced to 27 months in prison and three years of supervised release for mailing a threatening communication to his lawyer from prison.

On November 5, 2012, Daniel was charged with one count of stalking while restricted by a protective order (he sent several email and Facebook messages to his ex-girlfriend) and two counts of extortion (in two voicemail messages left at his ex-girlfriend’s place of employment, he threatened to disclose “embarrassing information” about her). If convicted at his trial, scheduled to begin October 22, Daniel can be sentenced to up to 55 years in prison. Prosecutors offered a 10-year sentence if Daniel agreed to plead guilty but have withdrawn their offer.