Category Archives: Criminal justice

Bringing In the Outlaws

This year’s political theater over gun control included a yearning for more background checks. The idea there is to keep felons on the loose (and certifiably crazy people) from having access to firearms. This brings to my mind David Codrea’s statement that if you can’t be trusted with a gun, you can’t be trusted without a custodian. But more than that, it reminds me that the way we do “criminal justice” in this society makes little sense.

Our primary response to everything from possessing small quantities of the wrong plant to murder is to put the person who done the deed in prison. Of course, if you’re into financial crimes, you stand in good chance of getting away with that. It helps to have a number of politicians on your payroll, naturally.

But this system couldn’t buy a gun legally in this country, thanks to its clear insanity. Here’s my suggestion for a reformation of our criminal justice system:

1. Violent crimes warrant an extended stay on the state’s dime, to include a program of re-education while in the government’s custody. No early release. No cable television. No parole, furlough, or other nonsense about how the prison is overcrowded so we’re letting the thug go. If you offer violence to someone who was doing no wrong to you, you deserve to spend a long time away from society.

2. Crimes of negligence, financial crimes, or property crimes that don’t involve violence should be punished through compensatory and punitive damages being paid in restitution. There is no sense in putting someone who commits check fraud in prison, only to let that person learn how to be a better criminal from fellow inmates. That person also cannot do anything useful to pay back those who were defrauded while in custody. Bernie Madoff, for example, may be getting what he deserves, but if he were cleaning the toilets at minimum wage of the people whose finances he ruined, that would be some measure of justice.

3. Malum prohibitum “crimes”–in other words, all the things that are crimes because today’s Puritans don’t like them–should no longer be crimes. Significant portions of prisoners at all levels are incarcerated for drug offenses. If you want to smoke weed, eat Cheetos, and listen to Pink Floyd records, that’s fine with me. As long as you don’t drive or involve children or otherwise put someone who doesn’t want to participate at risk, it’s no hurt, no foul in my book.

These all probably sound reasonable, or at least consistently libertarian. Here’s where the radical part comes:

Once the sentence or restitution is complete, the person should return to full rights and ability to take part in society.

I mean everything–voting, toting guns, working in a bank, whatever. Perhaps there could be a restriction on working in nuclear weapons labs or the like, but that’s iffy. My point here is that we learned a while ago, or so we claim, that our kind of society can’t have second-class citizens. But that’s exactly what having a criminal record makes a person.

But what about child molesters? What about repeat offenders? What about the incorrigibly violent or fradulant?

I can see a place for keeping a record on file about a person’s criminal activities. A second visit to the system could be noted and would earn a longer or more detailed sentence. But the decision that someone no longer needs to be locked up must mean exactly that–the person no longer needs to be supervised by the state for the good of us all. For example, a child molester, so far as I understand things, can never achieve that status and should be removed forever. (I would accept the death penalty here, but a life sentence can be good enough.)

What I’m saying is that we have to choose here. Is the person in question ready to be a full citizen or not? If yes, then no waffling about that. If no, then why are we allowing that person to wander the streets?