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Friday, January 27. 2012
A friend of mine recently joined a 3-day prison ministry in which our church participates. He returned home shaken by the entire experience.
6 million Americans sit in prisons today. I am certain that many of them are dangerous sociopaths who we would not want living next door, but many are non-violent (eg drug crimes, white collar crimes, etc) for which better penalties (eg fines) could be concocted. After all, it costs the taxpayer more per year than a year at Harvard to incarerate somebody.
America does have high rates of emprisonment. China doesn't, because they use the death penalty so liberally that they have medical vans on routes to stop by and harvest your fresh organs. In places like Saudi, they just cut your hand off if you steal. I suppose my feeling is that prison is ok for violent offenders, but not for the non-violent.
Anyway, this comes up because Dr. X. linked Gopnik's New Yorker piece, The Caging of America - Why do we lock up so many people?
What do you think? Am I a bleeding heart?
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I think most of us don't want to confront the issue. We don't even have a consensus in our culture about what prison is for. Is it punishment? Is it rehabilitation? Is it to quarantine those who would be unsafe to the larger society?
Because of this lack of agreement I think we end up trying to do all three and actually accomplishing none of them.
But that is just what happens when people get to prison. Why do we incarcerate so many?
Partly because it is popular to do so politically, to be "tough on crime". And partly because it works, the UK method of having no effective consequences for the perpetrators of petty crimes and violence has not worked well for them, whereas "broken window" policing has appeared to work well here. But a big part of it is just all of the things that are illegal and can lead to prison time. I've become convinced that the "war on drugs" is more damaging to our society than the drug use we are trying to restrict, and not just because of the resulting incarceration rate.
Prison: what is it for? Is it punishment? Is it rehabilitation?
A little of both, but mainly DETERRENCE. Isn't that obvious?
You might not be one, but in the dictionary, Adam Gopnick's photo is the illustration for "bleeding heart liberal."
Free Bernie Madoff?
Maybe what's needed is another kind of facility for the non-violent, one where they can do penance, make amends and perhaps earn their release.
Am I a bleeding heart?
No, but author Gopnik is a bit of one. Why did I bother reading his article? How will I ever get that time back? For the rest of you, here's his brilliant revelation: in a police state, like NYC has become, there is less opportunity for criminals to commit crimes. Gee, if you put a cop on every street corner where the criminals hang out, you tend to cut down on the number of crimes they commit? Who would have guessed? Well, okay then, it works, but I have to ask: is it worth it? Do we want to have a strong police presence in America? That makes me uncomfortable. Isn't it a bit 1984-ish? And how does that policy carry over to the prevention of white collar crime? Police spies in the office, on the Internet, watching us all for suspicious behavior? No thank you.
This is the sort of agonizing question that upper middle class people living in nice safe communities ask. If you lived in a place like Harlem, Watts or in many cities along our southern border, it's not likely that you would be musing upon this.
Or, if like myself, you have had to look into the eyes of someone who is trying to decide whether or not to kill you, you might be asking different questions.
But on a more global basis, the liberal agenda is busily destroying the fabric of society that keeps the animal instincts in people at bay. We will all pay the price for this and it's going to get worse, much worse, before it gets better.
A large part of the prison population is the black underclass, and for good reason.
The entire civil rights movement/welfare state program of the 60s until now has completely bypassed the black underclass, except for the maintenance functions of the various subsidies they receive. They have dropped out of American society, and they are completely alienated from it. In return, they have become a violent, predatory class: last year witnessed several dozen, perhaps more than a 100 incidents where black gangs hunted and attacked whites. The Minnesota State Fair was an extraordinarily egregious instance in which black gangs dragged whites from their cars and beat them.
While only a small minority of underclass blacks have participated in these crimes, the incidence of them is rising. Unless we can find policies that will make the black underclass part of America, that will give them opportunities to escape the undertow and become fully vested citizens, we will have a full-blown race war on our hands.
In case you think this is absurd, go look at Los
Angeles. There, two underclasses, Mexican and black, are fighting over territory. Right now the Mexicans are winning, and they are conducting a policy of violent ethnic cleansing against blacks.
We lock them up for a fairly simple reason- when they're in jail, they'r not committing crimes.
Most drug users are there on plea bargains- henec the drug charges. Easier to put them in jail that way, though they don't stay as long.
The only inmates I have any feeling for are the falsely accused and convicted. Trouble is, seperating them from the rest.
Listening to inmates proclaim their innocence reminds me of an old story about a French prince touring his dungeons. All the prisoners screamed out at him, protesting their fate, proclaiming their innocence. All but one. Curious, he asked, "Are you not innocent?" "No, sire, I"m not" was the reply." And they talked for a bit. And the Prince turned to the jailers and proclaimed, "Release this man. He is guilty, and is corrupting the other prisoners by his presence!"
I worked for a while in maintenance in a minimum security facility. Nothing like day to day contact with inmates to remind you why they are locked up. The average inmate is not just like you and me.
I believe you need to be more specific BD.
If you are advocating release for non-violent drug possession, that is one thing. If you are advocating the release of thieves/burglars and the perpetrators of financial fraud, that is something else. And don't forget that those in jail on drug possession may be thieves as well.
As for replacing jail terms with fines? Don't like it. That gives the Government an economic incentive to fine people, and view crime as a revenue source. I can imagine that course of action quickly spinning out of control.
In fact, I would argue that fines are out of control now. Witness the stoplight and speeding cams. Do we want the kind of thinking that led to those on the criminal side of law as well?
Furthermore, how do you extract a fine from someone that is unemployed and destitute? As for the affluent, a fine may be viewed as little more than a slap on the wrist, or a cost of business.
In the abstract, I agree that there are people in prison that shouldn't be there. The devil is in the details of sorting them out from those who should.
Interesting. Perhaps we need to somehow make the prison system more self-sustaining; i.e., the prisoners work for their keep.
As for 'white collar crime': those persons have often destroyed more lives than the 'regular' criminal. Sure they get excellent testimonials, and they haven't really threatened anyone, but they have devestated lives and heartlessly thrown senior into penury. That's one batch who should be working VERY VERY HARD while a guest of Her Majesty; proceeds over and above those needed for their keep to go to the victims.
Just one name: Joe Arpaio. Cost control, negative reinforcement, shame/humiliation, and deterrence in one package.
Prisons are a thriving business in America. One out of 300 Americans is locked up tonight. Like any growth industry, one must sell more units at a higher price per unit over time - a northeast curve, if you will. Over time, those with vested interests in supplying prisons and law enforcement with buildings, iron bars, guns, uniforms, beds, food, medical supplies, color tvs, ad nauseum have used their influence to get more activities declared illegal, give longer sentences, and lay out ever more expensive fees/fines/required programs for the captured citizens. I recently watched a few cases be processed before a judge at the local courthouse - all DUI, but mostly possession of a small amount of marijuana. I had no idea the county had such a racket going on. It was an assembly line. The blind lady was also holding her nose.
However, from a sociological standpoint, it doesn't help keep the prisons empty when we have a sizable segment of the population that idolizes thuggery, crime, lawlessness, and general amoral behaviors.
Stealing peoples life blood, their money, is not a non-violent crime. Many people have committed suicide over the loss of their money by Madoff and others. They have destroyed lives with their crimes. Prison is too good for most in prison.
I continue to work part-time in our state corrections system. We perform medical assessments on the inmates on their way in to the system, and, if released from the intake facility where I work, we try to prepare them for life on the street. There are counselors that run a diversion program that keeps first-time (young and stupid), non-violent people out of the prisons.
Many, if not most, of the non-violent inmates are predators, who commit crimes of opportunity, as well as the planned rip-offs, burglaries, con games, welfare fraud. Most do not confine themselves to just one form of crime, but are eager to learn other, more lucrative methods.
Occasionally, we get the white-collar professional (mostly lawyers), who fail to make their alimony/child support payments. I don't know the demographics, but all skin colors are well-represented. There are more black than brown, more brown than Caucasian, more Caucasian than Asian. Many have psychiatric disorders, and do receive counseling and medication; some refuse any treatment or medication.
The inmates usually don't stay here long-term, unless they are repeaters or they muder someone. Those with longer sentences are transferred to the main prisons. If they behave, they are released into society to make their choices all over again. If it were up to me, I wouldn't be making cut-backs and closing facilities, as our Democrat governor has done; I'd build as many as needed to keep the menace off the streets. The corrections officers are some of the finest people I have ever met or worked with, and I'm very proud to be associated with them.
Fortunately, there are some inmates who choose to abandon their old ways and start again. Not so many, I'm afraid.
Gopnik's piece is the same boring and lame Leftist crap we expect from the New Yorker. I think it's time someone, maybe me, wrote the article, "Why Can't We Lock Up More of Those Who Get Off on Technicalities."
A close friend who recently served three and a half years in federal prison (level 3) for a white collar crime (he was guilty, and worked hard in prison to identify and address his particular problems) told me that at the end of the day, he felt that about half of his fellow inmates should be in prison, about half should not. This seems about right to me, though probably not for all prisons.
I wulodn’t use fiberglass, might get in your food. It must be a very large oven if it will take forty pounds of paper. Shredded news paper soaked in water baking soda solution then dried works well for insulation. The baking soda was for a fire retardant.
Nonviolent criminals should be offered the choice of tearing down abandoned houses in urban areas.
Or removing graffiti.
The real crime is that there are a couple hundred thousand known gang members in big cities today. The police know who they are and they know what crimes they are committing, and yet they are free. We need all of those people in jail. So free the non-violent criminals and jail the violent ones.
I believe that drug abuse should continue to be considered a crime. It endangers people severely.
That said, I like a return to biblical punishment: either death (for premeditated murder, forcible kidnap, violent rape) or restitution (for everything else).
Incarceration should just be for a short stay, safe and reasonably comfortable, for during trials if there is a flight risk. Single cell only; end prison rape. It's not funny.
So, I'm up for major prison reform. But not for making drug abuse legal.
America's government at all levels has justifiably lost the respect of most of its citizens by making too many things illegal -- especially drugs (which were originally banned as an explicit act of cultural warfare against minorities -- look it up).
Once the prisons have been emptied of the millions who don't deserve to be punished at all (and filled with crooked politicians, a tradition we ought to learn from Latin America), then it will be time to start looking at whether the punishment for each kind of crime fits the crime.
For most non-violent offenses and even minor violence, I'd use other punishments; mostly fines, but let's also revive the stocks and possibly corporal punishment. Petty thieves and vandals would probably be more deterred by public shaming than by the short sentences, probation, or fines they now get. (Conversely, police and prosecutors ought to be required to keep the names of accused persons secret until and unless convicted. Otherwise an accusation is as good as a conviction, and that's not due process.)
There are NO PRISONS in the BIBLICAL justice system - except for holding people until trial.
Damages for crimes committed are evaluated on 5 criteria:
Physical Damage to Person or Property
Costs incurred by Convalescence
Can't pay the victim?
You are sold into "indentured servitude" - which is just an old name for "work-based rehabilitation":
Instead of soaking in the criminal subculture in prison, a young offender is placed in a supervised environment where s/he learns a skill and works off their debt - learning responsibility.
Your "master" is responsible for your basic needs, cannot physically harm you, and you learn how to live honorably by exposure to his family and community.
At the end of your service you are granted a stipend to get started.
Sounds a heckuva lot better than prison - at least for first offenders.
Fines won't work for things like drug possession. To echo a couple of earlier comments, many (actually, most, in my experience) of the folks locked up for drug possession commit property crimes to fund their habit/addiction. I worked for the federal courts for a number of years and didn't see many people being locked up for possession. Now, prosecuting in a state system, I see it a lot. Given the correlation between drug possession and other crimes, I don't have a problem with it. We're not rehabilitating folks in prison, but they are prevented from committing further crimes.
As for fines, in the jurisdiction where I work the sentence for felony drug possession is frequently probation for a first or second offense. Perhaps one out of thirty of the folks on probation complete that term successfully, that is to say paying probation costs and court fees and avoiding violating the terms. Fines won't get paid and the other alternative is some form of incarceration.