Wednesday, August 04, 2010



I don't think most people really think through the consequences of what that means. I get the desire to be punitive in the extreme for certain crimes, and a "life sentence" provides an option for those of us not inclined to support the death penalty, but the consequences of very long or life sentences is that our prisons are increasingly populated by old people. Does it really make sense to keep a bunch of 70-year-olds behind bars?

I suppose it goes without saying that there are some people who are so evil that they need to be removed from society for the rest of their lives. Conversely, a kid commits an armed robbery at 19 and is still in prison at 80? That doesn't make sense.

I'm not the same guy I was when I was 19. People mellow with age. We're just different.

Clearly there are many examples of violent offenders that have been released after a short period of time, only to end up hurting someone again. We like to think that parole boards are staffed with people bright enough to make some common sense judgements. I know that expecting people to be competent in their jobs is rather absurd at times. It is inevitable that mistakes can happen and somebody can get hurt. The world is a dangerous place and for the massive good that can happen by having sensible sentencing, it is worth the risk.

I know.. easy for me to say that when I'm not the one that gets hurt by an inmate that was released that shouldn't have been. I think collectively, as a society, we need to all throw in our lots for that risk.

I just don't get life sentences for non-violent crimes. I don't get "3 strikes" policies. I don't understand mandatory sentencing guidelines that remove the human element from the process.

The problem with Atrios' point though, is that if having a bunch of 70 year olds in prison is not a good thing, what do you do with them? There would need to be some support setup to enable them to have a place to live and a way to make some money that doesn't involve physical labor.

Probably the only positive consequences of this recession is that governments simply cannot afford to imprison so many people for so long. But, just letting them out is not a great idea either.

It's all so fucked up.. we got "tough on crime" when what we should have been doing is helping point people in the right direction.. counseling.. training.. forgiveness.. employers willing to give chances to convicts who have been prepared to re-enter society.

I think fundamentally, everyone (including convicted felons) wants the same thing. Family.. friends.. a job.. a place to live.. a future with some dreams of making it a better one. I think 99% of every person that steps into a prison is that way. The other 1%? Lock 'em up, treat them humanely, never release them. The rest.. it would make more economic sense to help them. It would save society money, and it would change a fundamental paradigm in that instead of the world being a hostile place that seeks nothing other than to imprison you for life, but a place where there is a way to succeed - with guidance from people who can show you how to do it.

Of course.. our "justice" system will never fundamentally change. There is a financial incentive to the system to keep it the way it is. People make a lot of money locking up Americans for decades at a time.

We can't even make prison a place where you can at least expect not to be abused on a continual basis by other prisoners. It's hell on earth, and by design.

I have never been, nor ever will, go to a prison - but I have a lot of sympathy for the inhumanity of it all.


Dan said...

I think people forget that punishment should be a means to an end. Priorities in the criminal justice system should be to help the victim, make sure it doesn't happen again, and reintroduce the person into society in that order.

Tom said...

One other thing that occurred to me is the economic rules of the justice system. Truly, if you can afford a private attorney that specializes in criminal defense and has years of experience, you'd be much better off.

Criminal justice is mainly a poor mans burden. A rich man has to really fuck up to pay a price.