Try this on for size.

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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.

Boundaries

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.

English: APK's left eye.

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.

English: Jackalope

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.

Hand-Over-Hand

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

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.

English: A motor boat pulling a water skier in...

  • Vehicles
  • Boats and recreational vehicles
  • Real estate
  • Liquid assets
  • Electronics
  • Company assets
  • Airplanes
  • 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.

Payback

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!

Combination of four currency symbols

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.

Serve Me

c. 1530

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.

Your Turn

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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48 Comments

  1. Well you know my opinion in large part. Though each must be judged on its own merit and I will give you two very specific examples:

    Martha Stewart should have never gone to jail
    All the Enron executives should have

    Similar crimes in that they would both be considered “White Collar” and there the similarity stops. In one case Martha took advantage of a tip to make a profit, unethical to be certain and she needed to be slapped down with a fine and forfeiture. On the other hand, well hundreds of thousands were scammed out of millions.

    More later, as I am going to use an example of punishment fitting the crime from another country.

    Reply
  2. Thanks for posting the article, was certainly a great read!

    Reply
  3. Alternative punishment for non-violent crimes is a sound idea and could save society a lot of money. Doing public service typically is thought of in terms of cleaning up parks, shoveling snow for seniors, cleaning up graffiti, cutting grass, serving in municipal shelters for the homeless, etc. but there is a better way.
    I would suggest that society could have “businesses” or establishments specifically set up to ” hire criminals” the non- violent perpetrators– for major works; clearing land by hand, planting forests, building roads, restoration of heritage properties, mining, you name it –providing basic job training at the same time and encouraging the concept of being productive citizens. Sure, it might be considered a form of “hard labour”, but 6 months of tree planting or 2 years of pick and shovel work would be a lesson not easily forgotten by a crooked stock market promoter.

    Reply
    • This to me is the final (and currently missing) phase of penal rehab. After the “counseling”, the vocational rehab (learning a trade) and reintegration training. The next stop (an possibly until the end of parole) is the business. For all I care, let the mob government run it. Bottom line, they must turn a profit.

      In SC there is a prison who runs a furniture factory. Why, could you possibly tell me, would any government agency buy furniture from anywhere but there? Answer, by statute government agencies would need to be compelled to patronize correctional rehabs prior to any other outlet.

      Yes, I have a business model in mind already….Red.

      Reply
  4. I forgot, these “businesses” by the way, would not be crown corporations or soft government establishments. They would be private companies that would be required to make a PROFIT, a % of which would be turned into the correctional system.

    Reply
    • See my response to your last comment, but if you take this tack, I would suggest the correctional facility get a per hour gratuity the way temporary agencies do.

      Reply
  5. This is rather simplistic Red, and the answer is that there are no exceptions, if the law is broken then whoever did the deed should pay regardless of who they are…

    Cutting corners just leads to flaws in the law…

    Androgoth XXx

    Reply
    • In my legal world, there would be no exemptions from the law. There is a reason they do not let me run things 😉

      Reply
      • Yes I think a nice whipping would serve them right however some of them would more than likely enjoy that so don’t put that forwards for a punishment 😉 lol

        You are adding some excellent postings Red 🙂

        Androgoth XXx

        Reply
  6. Holy cow, someone thinks like I do, and I thought there was something wrong with me. I always wondered why people who cheat others out of money or something have to go to jail instead of being forced to pay the money back. Or, have them offer some other service.

    For example, in my ghetto of a city, the jails are overflowing with non-violent criminals while most of downtown is “blighted” with empty houses while people live in the streets. Have them work on the empty buildings and fix them up or something, repair the pot holes, fix the infrastructure yada yada.

    I’ve also heard of those who commit crimes so they have somewhere to go – even jail is better than homeless to some. During my journey I have found out that it would be better if I had an addiction – I could get help then.

    Reply
    • Alex, you and I very much agree on this one. You will find you are in good company in this thread as well. I wholeheartedly embrace letting criminals do the labor for public renovation. Having an MBA does not over-qualify you to operate a shovel or a paint brush, at least not in my HR department.

      Reply
  7. I lived in Singapore back in 1999-2001. Some six years previous a 18 year-old had been living there with his family, step-father who was an executive with an American firm. The kid had been attending the American School. When you go to Singapore as part of the expat package you agree to live within their laws, you don’t get to apply to the embassy for intervention if you break them; you are tried in their courts and their rules apply.

    That being said this kid was a bit of a wild child, he and his friends as a lark went out one evening and tagged several cars with spray paint. Among these were two BMW’s. This pushed the crime into the ‘high crimes’ category due to the value of the automobiles. A BMW in Singapore at that time started at around $280K, these were more.

    Outcome? He was sentenced to be caned, I don’t remember the original sentence but despite diplomatic agreements there was so much uproar over this poor baby getting ‘spanked’ the sentence was reduced to 6. It was carried out and immediately thereafter this spoiled child returned to the US where he proceeded to give several interviews about his terrible treatment at the hands of the Singaporeans.

    Over a period of time he continued to get in trouble with the law in the states, primarily over drugs and alcohol related cases. Eventually he faded out of the picture.

    I tell this story for two reasons, Singapore is known for their very strict adherence to a set of what we in the west might consider archaic laws, but they work and they are primarily focused not on jailing but on quick justice, restitution and social shaming. Secondly, because the US interfered in Singapore carrying out the sentence, not only did this young man not learn anything but even 6 years later this case was still talked about and Westerners were still treated with a degree of mistrust.

    Reply
    • I rather like the idea of public flogging as a means of behavior control. Had it been a child vandalizing parent’s property, the self-same spanking would likely have taken place. I feel certain the Singaporeans have far fewer graffiti’d anything than Americans do.

      Americans truly should mind their own business, but, my dear friend, I suspect that will be a discussion of epic proportion for another day 😉

      Reply
  8. I, to like Grant spent some time in prison. I do believe that there are some crimes that don’t deserve prison time, but they still should pay for the crime that they did. As many people before have said no crime is victim less. Someone will always pay even if it isn’t the person that did the crime. And most facilities have programs in place to help with the faults of criminals drug/alcohol abuse, violence, and such. But even with these programs in place there isn’t much that the prisons do to help you get ready for society. It like throwing the lamb to the wolf and hope the lamb wins. If the person who was locked up learned anything then he/she will have a good chance in today society if not back they go. The prison system send parolee’s to DSS to get help when they first get out so as you can see someone is always the victim.

    Reply
    • Bear

       /  December 11, 2011

      “Someone will always pay even if it isn’t the person that did the crime.”

      I have been putting people in jail for years. Name this tune: If you can’t do the time, don’t do the crime. I may be reading more into this, but if you didn’t do the crime and you took the rap for it you are an idiot and you lied under oath which is also a crime. Why in hell should I listen to how bad things are for the prisoners or new releases? Why is it up to society to hold your hand and make it all better for you when you, in fact, being of sound mind, did something that you went to jail for. I’m sorry but you want to blame the prison system for the acts of a simpleminded fool.

      There are people that are innocent that are sent to lock up. There are always mistakes made, but come on to attack a system that you think doesn’t treat the poor jailbird fair.

      Our justice system as I said in an earlier comment needs reform, but people that break the law in any form are criminals and do a criminal act and need to face the punishment. Take it like a man or woman. Own it. Many of the felons in prison will tell you straight up. They are not guilty. Let’s face, it if you haven’t committed a crime you don’t spend time in prison and your rehabilitation isn’t needed. Wow! OK, everybody stop being a criminal. Problem solved. Why didn’t i think of that before?

      We as a country are way to lenient on the criminals. In most cases the punishment never fits the crime. Go to Thailand commit a crime see what happens. Russia you will do a vanishing act. Middle East you will lose you head. NOW THAT’S REHAB FOR YOU. So, dear #6893939, I will buy you a ticket to the middle eastern vacation wonderland for bad guys. Please write me soon, Stumpy. Bear

      Reply
      • Nice Bear. Someone who had the balls to say it. And it’s true, I met many innocent people in prison. Hahahahahahahaha! Never said I was innocent, just needed someone to encourage me when I had served the time that the judge sentenced me to. Glad that I learned. And I feel like you do: public floggings, stockades, castration, public hangings, televised electrocution and gas executions. Do all this, and you would definately see a sharp decline in crime rates. Oh, and fingerless shop lifters can’t steal! Sometimes the past is what we need. Later, Grant

        Reply
      • You don’t know me (someday you will) but I think I probably like you

        Reply
      • Bear, I agree with you, don’t do the crime and you won’t do any time. But I don’t believe once a criminal always a criminal, people can change. If you look at society today you will see that we have Presidents, Pope’s, and Policemen committing crime everyday. And they get away with it because they use their badge. There are many crimes committed each day that are felonies, class D,E that never reach the court room, you should know that. I bet that if you really think about it you will see that you are not innocence either. Everybody makes mistakes it what we do after the mistake that really matters.

        Reply
  9. It’s me again Red. This seems like one of those” We agree to disagree” discussions. So many people with good ideas, bright suggestions and promising cures but, it’s all for naught. No matter what you think or how you feel, it is what it is! Grin and bear it! Until we have politicians, judges, lawyers,correctional officers and law enforcement on the same page and giving a DAMN, it will not change. This is my final rant on this subject. Love you, Grant

    Reply
    • Love you, too, but find this a bit lackluster for you. The only way to positively change anything is to stand shoulder-to-shoulder for what you believe is right. Part of that is getting enough people together to give a damn. This type of discussion is how to find out if there are enough like minds to show the PTB they are wrong.

      I worked at the Department of Elections long enough to learn one vote counts. I have seen elections carried on as little as three (3) votes. But it took those three people getting up off the couch and putting down the remote and the potato chips, getting in their POS cars and going to vote.

      Having spent the better part of my life being the squeaky wheel, I have been greased a few times (and no, not run over by a truck). This is one of those times to squeak. Corrections is changing all over the country because of the current economic state. This is the time to act, not stand back and whine the jerk weeds we put into office are too busy having martini lunches with lobbyists to do the job we pay them mightily to do.

      Rant not nearly over, but I need a cuppa.
      Red…more than hair.

      Reply
      • Come on Red, corrections reform is nice. So is election reform, But as I said, it takes all of the above plus us to make the change. Do YOU think YOU could grease us all. Better buy plenty of K-Y! Grant

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      • And I get off the couch, once every 2 years, to cast MY vote. That was reinstated after parole, and I appreciate it! Wish more people did!

        Reply
        • More people need to vote. More people need to see there is something wrong and by doing something besides nothing is how to make things change. I once watched a group of felons (who could not vote) get a candidate elected. They hosted rallies, handed out fliers, made cold calls, did something besides gripe about not being able to vote and not liking what was in office. While I will never discounted the ability (and frankly the responsibility) to vote, it does require getting together a message to send to the PTB.

          As to your last comment: I am not the greaser, I am the squeaker. Red.

          Reply
  10. I just remembered something that happened a while back. My ex-husband was once pulled over on the highway with our young daughter in the car and arrested and spent a weekend in jail over back-due child support. However, the child support was current and he had the papers to prove it, in his truck. The cops of course had to do their job and told him once he got in front of a judge it would be okay,

    In the meantime, our young daughter was standing at the side of the highway watching her father handcuffed. The cops then took his cell phone to call me. I had a migraine that day and has just taken a strong prescription that leaves you unable to drive. I explained this to the cops, but they said if I did not get my daughter off the side of the road she would be taken away.

    In the meantime, my ex did not get any kind of legal assistance til Monday (this happened on a Friday night) and he missed out on a whole weekend of work. Everything was dismissed. What was the problem? Since the child support issues took place in 3 different states, the agencies had failed to communicate, hence he showed in arrears. The same job that paid the darn child support could have been lost because of that incident.

    Reply
    • This is another premium example of the failure of the support enforcement system in this country. If you like, we can have a post to discuss this, as I have personal background on this one in five different states. The numbers may well shock you. Red.

      Reply

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