Monday, July 16, 2007

Criminal Production System

This was the post I meant to write before I got distracted by post-structuralist crime busters.

The end of Mr. Sanchez's post reads as follows:
It's frequently noted that a perverse consequence of our prison system is that we end up placing petty criminals in an intensive training program for serious crime. But more than that, we reinforce their identity as criminals.

Ezra Klein follows up to say:
Look: Incarceration can serve a valuable purpose in segregating dangerous individuals from the wider society. That incarceration should be handled humanely and wisely, of course, but it has a purpose. For the millions and millions of non-violent offenders, though, it serves a very different purpose. It abandons them to a realm where violence, and threats, and intimidation, serve as your only security. And so those characteristics are honed, and amplified. It renders them unfit for many jobs, and less marriageable. Abuse and rape at the hands of other prisoners and prison guards can leave the inmate psychologically damaged and deeply rageful.

This is what our system of justice does: It takes the unlawful and makes them more violent. It takes criminals and makes them worse, reducing their future options, encouraging them to become more physically brutal, cultivating their marginalization from society.

Agreed, agreed, agreed. I have no trouble sending murderers away to jail. For life, or for a long, long time. But there is something deeply, fundamentally wrong with how we treat non-violent offenders, especially non-violent drug offenders. We come down harder on crack users than we do on rapists half the time. And we essentially are guaranteeing that these people graduate into lifelong criminal activity, because they have no other option.

We have to come up with another route. At this stage in the game, if I were sitting on drug trial jury (for anybody who wasn't some sort of kingpin), I would be sorely tempted to nullify regardless of guilt or innocence. It's gotten out of hand. I'm open to the idea that drug use needs to be punished. But right now, the punishment doesn't fit the crime, the punishment isn't stopping the crime, and the punishment is likely causing more, worse crimes.

1 comment:

PG said...

"I would be sorely tempted to nullify regardless of guilt or innocence"

Unless you lied to the court, someone like you would be voir dired by the prosecution off any jury considering a drug crime. The convictions and sentences given to drug offenders do not represent the middle of American opinion; they represent the middle of American "people who are involved with drugs rightfully deserve to be punished" opinion.