I published my original opinion on the topic of the Saturday Evening Post on 30MAY07, a result of contemplation of Memorial Day. Yes, this topic has been hanging around for a long time. You may note I updated the opinion last month with new statistics.
Feel free to vote in the debate, for as you see, I am not in the majority. Still, I lead the minority pack in my reasoning.
Do you remember the boundaries we set in the SEP? Non-violent crime assumes the law is broken without the threat (or exercise) of physical harm. Ted brought up the mental harm caused by any crime, which definitively is violence, but for the purpose of our both exercise and societal norms, psychological harm does not fit into “violent” crime.
Easy is in the eye of the beholder.
Even when we decide the parameters of the discussion, it is difficult to find agreement. Each of us brings to the table a background which molds our perceptions and tolerances.
- Bear brings years of law enforcement experience to the table.
- Grant brings the experience of the inadequacy of prison.
- Val has been a victim of violence, but is a victim’s impact advocate.
- I bring the experience of being a victim of both violent and non-violent crime with a twist:
- Two generations of my direct bloodline currently working in state corrections.
We each view the matter from a slightly different bent. How does that affect our agreements and disagreements?
Absolutes are for idiots.
Val pointed out large exceptions which exist to any law we impose, as each individual case must be decided on its own merits. Mike, Lorre, Ted and Andro all pointed out the inequity of sentences to crimes and the law’s inherent inability to address all instances with consistent results. On this point we are all in agreement: Something should change. Therein, the agreement stops.
What do you think?
If you have not read my opinion, you may want to take a moment, before what comes next.
No Such Animal
Non-violent crime revolves around misdemeanors and felonies of property crime, theft and fraud, regulatory infractions, prostitution and drug use/abuse. We correctly identified there are no truly victimless crime. In the end, society pays for the prosecution, punishment, rehabilitation and maintenance.
Non-violent crime and violent crime feed off one another. Metropolitan areas are the best examples. Non-violent crime is by nature more difficult to investigate and prosecute. The investment in man-hours (and money) means hard authoritative decisions to forgo intensifying some violent criminal investigations.
These decisions are not meant to belittle the victims of violent crime, but rather exhibit the consensus certain crimes are likely not to be repeated during the pendency of an investigation, for instance vehicular manslaughter.
Where the Rubber Meets the Road
Whether you realize it or not, non-violent impact and diversion programs are effective means of punishment, which is proven by the low recidivism rate. These programs exist across the country in every state and originated to save money.
Probation costs less than 1/20 (one-twentieth) the total cost to house a criminal in a penitentiary, prison, correctional institute or jail for an equal amount of time. Considering the alternative, society needs to pull up its panties and get with the program.
Instead of diverting the savings to fund more prisons, the money needs to be invested into onsite, prison rehabilitation programs ranging from reintegration to educational to vocational to substance abuse.
Oh, that’s just fine!
Most non-violent sentences include fines and court costs to defray the expense of prosecution. Before you write off the power of a fine or a criminal’s inability to muster funds, consider this: The United States confiscates more personal property than any other country.
- Boats and recreational vehicles
- Real estate
- Liquid assets
- Company assets
- Personal effects, such as jewelry and furniture
- Stocks, bonds, retirement accounts
Criminals’ assets are routinely assessed, forfeited and auctioned/sold to satisfy fines and restitution. When they have access to the assets of a corporation, the corporation is examined for forfeiture of assets or of the company in its entirety.
Non-violent criminals are more than 70% successful in paying restitution. Compare this figure to the less than 50% of non-custodial parents who pay their child support. These criminals are paying taxes which are defraying the costs of prosecuting and housing the criminals who we agree need to be behind bars.
Keeping more citizens in the workforce where they are tax-contributing members means better support for the government enforcing the law, economic maintenance and victim restitution. Do note, most jurisdictions garnish wages to ensure restitution payments are made, which accounts for the higher success rate. The majority of restitution failures are resultant of death of the criminal rather than default.
Show me the money!
You get the recurring theme of making the criminals pay in dollars rather than spending even more taxpayer money. Facts bare felons have a very hard time reintegrating into the work force. Companies routinely ask about convictions as a matter of assessing the risk of hiring. While felons are not always high risk, companies are not willing to put someone convicted of theft in a position to steal.
Diversion of non-violent offenses, like fraud and misappropriation, means criminals are put back into a field where they maintain their earning capacity to expedite restitution. To adequately determine if a company is putting the fox in charge of the hen house, statistics are the best solution: 3% recidivism rate.
Hitting a white or pink collar criminal in the wallet is an effective deterrent to repeat criminal behavior.
Fewer than 20% of non-violent criminals are required to do community service. This is where the judiciary is failing the public in the largest arena. Community service for non-violent crimes should carry the same intensity and frequency as hard labor for violent crimes does.
Here is where the greatest opportunity for changes lies. The humiliation of working publicly without recompense to atone for crime is a deterrent to future crime. Want proof? Look at societies who still employ public corporal punishment. Ask a criminal.
Given the statistics and reasoning why I support circumventing incarceration of non-violent offenders, and noting there are exceptions to the rule, do you in general support alternative punishment for non-violent criminals?
(c) Ann Marie Dwyer 2007-2011
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