Criminals’ Rights vs. Society

Posted on Wednesday 1 June 2005

Lately, I’ve been thinking about the way the justice system in the United States works. I’ve come to the conclusion that the whole thing needs to be re-worked. Not the actual courts, but the much of the law, the ideas of what constitutes crime, the idea of punishment, and the idea of the rights of the convicted.

There are many reasons I have come to this conclusion. First, I don’t think that mandatory jail sentences for certain crimes makes much sense. Granted, being against mandatory sentencing is political suicide, but then I’m not a politician. The whole idea of mandatory sentencing is strange, especially with regards to the war on drugs. More on this later.

In this country, we have gone too far to protect the rights of the convicted. The real people, who often pay the price, are the victims of the crimes. They are victimized by the criminal, and then again by the justice system. People convicted of crimes in the United States have little real reason to reform themselves, or change their behavior. The modern prison system is a pretty good deal for many criminals, who come from the underprivileged classes—to be in prison costs the convict nothing but their physical freedom, and carries many benefits.

When someone is sent to jail or prison, what is really happening. Think about it. Here is someone who has decided to not contribute to society, and decided to break the laws that make our society work. Yet, here we are rewarding them.

  • A prisoner gets three square meals a day, a roof over their heads—in essence guaranteed room and board, something that most of the working poor in this country can’t even afford.
  • They usually have access to a weight room—essentially health club privileges—which the average person has to pay for out of pocket.
  • They also have guaranteed medical care, which, from what I’ve read, even covers procedures that most private insurance companies would not. This is another major incentive for criminals to commit more crime… as there is no such thing as affordable health care in the United States, and we are the only industrialized nation that I know of that does not have universal coverage.
  • They have access to cable television in many cases, also something that the average law-abiding person also has to pay for.
  • They have access to libraries and education, through the prison system, again, generally something that people have to pay for, either through their taxes, or through tuition.

In fact, in most prisons, the prisoners are not taught a viable trade, but do have the opportunity to learn how to become much better criminals. In many cases, the prisons are evolutionary proving grounds for honing their criminal skills.

Now, given what I’ve stated above…what real motivation does the ex-convict have to stay out of prison. Outside of the prison system, he is now forced to pay for his room and board, has to pay for gym or health club facilities, cable TV, education, and health care. He often has little in the way of viable trade skills, and no real career options, as many businesses are reluctant or unwilling to hire an ex-con. Is it any wonder that they turn back to a life of crime relatively quickly.

Some crimes do deserve mandatory sentencing. Violent crimes, with real victims, such as car-jacking, armed robbery, kidnapping, assault and battery, rape, murder, manslaughter, are few I can think fall in that category. Societal crimes like drug dealing, identity theft, and fraud—which also have real victims or encourage violent crimes—should also require mandatory sentences. The people who commit these crimes are a true danger to the society around them, and require incarceration. Many of these crimes should require restitution.

Then there are crimes like drunk driving and drug use, which although serious, incarceration of the offenders is less than useful. In the case of drunk drivers, incarceration often shifts the burden of supporting the dependents of the drunk driver onto society, and does little to solve the problem. I’ve got a post about the whole thing located here.

The situation for drug users is also very similar. Rehabilitation is probably a much better solution than incarceration, for many of the reasons I’ve stated earlier. Light drug users, once imprisoned, often become hardened criminals. I don’t have any specific references to this, but I will try to find and post some. During the “War on Drugs,” mandatory sentencing for drug offenders became the politically correct thing to do. I’ve read horror stories where people convicted of light recreational drug use were serving longer sentences than repeat offenders, convicted of violent crimes. This makes little sense to me. Again, I’ll see if I can find the stories and post links to them.

Some laws also need to be revised. I’ve read that it is a far greater offense to download or upload a “ripped” song from a CD than it is to actually shoplift the physical CD. Something about that strikes me as wrong-headed. Again, I’ll see if I can find the article on this. Identity theft is another area the law needs to be re-written…but it should be called what it actually is… fraud. I’ve written several articles about this in my blog previously and won’t go into here. There are other areas as well, but I’m going to leave them for another article.

The prison system should be reformed. Prisoners should be forced to pay for their room and board, their health care, cable television, education, and health club facilities, just as any law-abiding resident of the United States is forced to do. Not only would this greatly reduce the cost of the prison system to taxpayers, but it would teach responsibility to those incarcerated within the system. It would teach them that they are responsible for their own well-being and to the society around them. We need to stop coddling and nurturing the criminals. If they are not willing to pay for the services and goods….let them do without. I do not believe that our society has a responsibility to care for criminals who have opted to shirk their responsibilities to our society, and have essentially opted out of our society by doing so. They have chosen their path—let them walk it.

The prisoners should also be given the opportunity to learn a realistic trade. One that can provide them with at least a reasonable chance of making a living and contributing to society once they have served their sentence. I believe one major reason many criminals commit crimes upon leaving prison, is that they have no other skills or trade to fall back on. Many service industries, and trade jobs can be taught to prisoners. Carpentry, electrical, masonry, and plumbing, are all trades that are generally required by the society as a whole. They should also be forced to pay for this education, through community service, or through a slight garnishment on their future wages.

A second tier of maximum security prisons should also be established, for the criminals that are not willing to be reformed, and those who are too violent or dangerous for general society. Let them create their own society with in the walls of such an institution and let the institution trade for the goods and services that they require. A modern penal colony of sorts.

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