gall and gumption

Thursday, September 13, 2007

A Question I Ask Myself

Sometimes I go out to the supermarket, let's say, or just driving along the freeway, maybe take the dogs to the park and people pass me and I get that slightly alienated feeling. I get it whenever I walk the aisle of the supermarket or drugstore where the seasonal specials are displayed.

I end up in line at the supermarket or the big black SUV with the big slobby couple in it, I drive past the new houses and I wonder: are these people in front of me in the line those people? Are they the ones passing me on the left? Do they live in those houses?

Who, you ask.

The mean vindictive cowardly bigoted short-sighted dumb sonofabitches.

This growth in punitiveness was accompanied by a shift in thinking about the basic purpose of criminal justice. In the 1970s, the sociologist David Garland argues, the corrections system was commonly seen as a way to prepare offenders to rejoin society. Since then, the focus has shifted from rehabilitation to punishment and stayed there. Felons are no longer persons to be supported, but risks to be dealt with. And the way to deal with the risks is to keep them locked up. As of 2000, 33 states had abolished limited parole (up from 17 in 1980); 24 states had introduced three-strikes laws (up from zero); and 40 states had introduced truth-in-sentencing laws (up from three). The vast majority of these changes occurred in the 1990s, as crime rates fell.

This new system of punitive ideas is aided by a new relationship between the media, the politicians, and the public. A handful of cases—in which a predator does an awful thing to an innocent—get excessive media attention and engender public outrage. This attention typically bears no relation to the frequency of the particular type of crime, and yet laws—such as three-strikes laws that give mandatory life sentences to nonviolent drug offenders—and political careers are made on the basis of the public’s reaction to the media coverage of such crimes.


Because, you see, I don't want to live among a public that thinks this way. And here I've been doing it all these years. I wish they'd just wear T-shirts or something so I could cross the street to avoid them.

3 Comments:

At 8:52 PM, Blogger L7 said...

· Compared to other felony suspects, individuals eligible for prosecution under the Three Strikes law tend to have a longer criminal history, they're typically older, more likely to be male and much more likely to be African-American.

That longer history could be as minor as one arrest for 11550 and one for shoplifting. That kind of defendant may be a little annoying, sure, but to impose a life sentence on the third strike?

When petitions were being circulated for the three-strikes law, a co-worker asked me to sign one. I declined, and she wanted to know why. I told her it would be a stupid law that would not have the intended effects, but would have severe consequences for very low-level offenders (those arrested on drug use charges and minor property crimes, which are almost always drug- or alcohol-related). But she developed a bad case of disagreement deafness and walked away. Her parting shot was that she hoped I wouldn't learn my lesson the hard way.

 
At 10:25 PM, Anonymous tom said...

Felons are no longer persons to be supported, but risks to be dealt with. And the way to deal with the risks is to keep them locked up.

Some ambitious social scientist or psychoeconomist might devise a study that would correlate this massive effort to wall in "risks" with the parallel movement in the credit markets to extend impossible mortgages to increasingly higher "risks," thereby maximizing social exposure to financial risk even as more actual humans are immured.

 
At 12:05 AM, Blogger Kia said...

Her parting shot was that she hoped I wouldn't learn my lesson the hard way.

Nice. Expressing the wish that some criminal should teach you, by force, that she's right.

 

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