Does the 'Barefoot Bandit' Deserve So Much Jail Time?

12/20/2011 02:29 pm 14:29:37 | Updated Feb 19, 2012

The "Barefoot Bandit" is on my mind.

The so-called bandit actually is a 20-year-old high school dropout named Colton Harris-Moore who yesterday was sentenced to seven years in prison after pleading guilty to more than 30 counts of theft.

I've been thinking about him in relation to a woman named Providence Hogan who stole more than $80,000 from a PTA fund at a public school in Brooklyn. Hogan, the mother of a young daughter, claimed she needed the money for fertility treatments. She got no jail time.

Just before Hogan pleaded guilty to theft earlier this year, a female NY Times writer wrote an incredibly sympathetic story about Providence and how she had a difficult childhood, how her husband and she seemed not to speak at a court hearing, how some in the community just wanted her to pay back the money and do no jail time. The article seemed to turn the tide in Hogan's direction. About a month later, she pled guilty, repaid $50,000 she stole and promised to pay the other $32,000 over a two-year period.

Now these two cases are NOT alike and yet on some level, to me, they are. I don't know exactly what type of troubled childhood Providence had but I'm betting not very many people have been dealt a worse hand than Colton, who, according to a forensic psychological report, barely survived his alcoholic mother and variety of violent men who paraded through her decrepit trailer. I know a fair bit about this story because I covered it for CBS News, have had conversations with Colton's mother, and have visited that trailer. Let's just say I was pretty happy not to be invited inside.

When Colton began stealing at a young age, he was stealing to eat! As a child, Colton begged his mother to have more food in the house. A social worker wrote, "Mother refuses."

Back to Providence Hogan who today is walking free. I don't really have a problem with that as long as justice is meted out in an even-handed manner. Colton has already done about 18 months in a federal pen and he is paying full restitution to all his victims thanks to 20th Century Fox which paid $1.3 million for his life story. He gets nothing; his victims are made whole.

Does this still-young man deserve what might amount to a decade of prison time (he could get more time when federal charges are figured in)? He was failed by nearly every adult figure in his life, including the school system and social workers who never removed him from his home. Society only woke up when he began committing crimes but Colton had been shouting for attention for years.