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.