Try this on for size.

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.

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.


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.

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.


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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  1. That’s okay, I beat enough dead horses already. I have been on all angles and sides of that issue as well.

  2. I live close to a ‘farm’ prison for non-violent offenders. They take care of cows and work the farm as part of their ‘punishment’ in a minimum security environment. Not only do they get more priviledges than those in the maximum security (almost next door), they learn a trade and have a chance to contribute. It is also self-sustaining, so win win for all. These are out there, why have more not adopted it?

    • When the “war on drugs” began, the idea was all abusers/distributors needed to be super maxed. Since that meant more restrictive prisons, the farms were not part of the prison expansion of the late 80s and early 90s. Many people have no idea such prisons exist. Add to that a politically correct movement to erase the stigma of the word “penitentiary” (making it the less derogatory “correctional institute”). It boils down to a recipe for Maury-watching-cell-phone-trading-dope-smoking prison population. Jobs within the prisons for inmates (trustees) are not all that simple to come by and many do not make the effort to get them. Attitude: Inside and out.

  3. This is such a hard one to call. The circumstances within a crime occurring is so dependent on many unique factors that to apply ‘one size fits all’ becomes impossible yet the vast numbers committing crimes makes it impossible to set correctional parameters on an individual basis so the need for ‘one size fits all’ becomes necessary.
    The representation of a crime in a courtroom becomes so much distanced from the initial act by the time the lawyers and authorities have spun the ‘story’ it is hard to tell how the real victim suffered within the circumstances of the incident.
    I also think that the representation of the legal system, both fictionally and factually, within the media, films and TV program’s means many people have no idea how the system works in reality.

    • To be frank, many people inside the system have no idea how the system works in reality. Hence, we have dispensed with the idea the system works and are seeking out alternatives to warehousing non-violent criminals like cordwood.

      I absolutely disagree with the “individual basis” theory. In fact, the laws are written in such a way as to render the acts the same, regardless of situation. For instance, prostitution. Whether the prostitute is peddling for money to go to school, feed a family or for kicks…still a prostitute. The only way mitigation comes into play is if her pimp is coercing her. Then, he becomes criminal as well.

      The wheels of justice are currently flat. rotating the tires is merely an exercise in futility. The broken pieces emerge between the verdict and the parole. Red.

  4. The thought of an innocent person becoming bankrupt over their misfortune is mind numbing, but criminals do need to be held accountable and for restitution. Non-violent criminals need to pay back their victims for their lost income, and they need to pay back society for their lost faith in humanity.

    Case in point would be Bernie Madoff. He made off with a lot of money, and all of it should be given back to the people, not to a State’s or the fed’s coffers! The fines criminals pay are called “victim surcharges” but the victims don’t get anything out of it, other than the ability to be confronted by their tormenter whenever they drive by them picking up garbage along the highway.

    Another great venture into the failings and successes of society, Red!

    • Thank you, Marc. I find great solace in seeing my detrimentor held accountable, be it fetching garbage from the roadside or painting curbs.

  5. The “War on Drugs” is never going to be won or be over because you cannot stamp out human behavior or eliminate social issues we have created.

    • True. I am just hoping and fighting for new rules of engagement. The current exercise in the definition of insanity has me wondering whether this is merely a massive failure of the education system or the utter corruption of all which the country should hold sacrosanct…or some diabolical combination. Red.

  6. Bear

     /  December 12, 2011

    First, Jim, let me say first and foremost that you are correct. There are a lot of people who use their position of power to abuse the law. And you are correct. When I was two, I stole a box of crayons from a grocery store. Little did I realize my getaway would be thwarted by my cousin, the rat bastard. He told my Dad who just happen to be on the lookout because I, at two, had figured out the art of escape. The plot takes a turn for me, upon the arrival of my Dad, who served as judge jury and executioner, I received a whipping that to this day I remember. Yes, I am criminal. And yes, I learned a valuable lesson.To this day, I can’t look at crayons without shaking in my boots.

    OK, but to make a point once a criminal is to always be a criminal no matter what you can’t unrob someone nor unrape them nor uncarjack them. And also true some people make changes for the better but the MAJORITY of hardened criminal return to jail. And again, it’s not up to me to judge…that’s for the judicial system to handle If you don’t like it, there always the vote or lobbying to change it. I believe as I stated that I would love to see corporal punishment brought back. Justice swift and just. Caning is the preferred method. I’m sure that once caned the convicted would think a lot before returning to a life of crime. People change, but the crime they commit still makes them a criminal.

    As to the ones that got away…Newsflash! The bad guys outnumber the good guys. Have you reported a crime lately? If you are waiting on the LEOs to catch them all, you missed the point.

    The next topic is education. Most people in jail have better resources for education than the average person does. I have two degrees and had to pay for them. In jail its a freebie. Health care-free. Next to free dental care. Wow! I think I want to rob a bank and get to sent to club fed. The benefits far out way the bad. I don’t feel sorry for the poor downtrodden jailbird. You made the choice to do a crime. I assume you a reasonable person. Am I supposed to feel sorry for you because your CO said hurtful things to you or your cell mate was a meanie? Sorry, not listening. Punishment is what it is it what its meant to be but in some cases not enough. Bear

    • Okay, Bear, what you saying is mostly true, but if a person has served his/her time and their full sentence is complete. Are they still a criminal or what? I guess from what you say that they would be, but society says that they are not they are like anyone else, a normal citizen. You say that you go to court every week, and see all kind of cases, right. How about adultery isn’t that a crime and how many people go to jail for it? So I guess you are right once a criminal always a criminal. Now who is the victim, and who get hurt or doesn’t that count. Jim

      • Jim – Adultery is NOT a legislated criminal act. The United States, much to many peoples dismay remains intact as a Secular nation with Secular laws.

        While people may get their feelings hurt by what they perceive as adultery. In fact it is very specific and only applies in very specific cases, and then only when both people agree to the terms and the morality involved in them. Still not a matter of criminal prosecution however. Most States today don’t even recognize it as a ’cause’ for divorce, as most states are ‘no fault’ divorce states.

        Just to put this in perspective we no longer tape Scarlet “A” on the bodice of women to indicate their behavior as outside of our social agreements. We no longer burn them at the stake either. It is important to understand that hurt feelings don’t transfer well and don’t a criminal make.

      • Bear

         /  December 13, 2011

        This is turning into a pissing contest. Most convicts, like yourself, need exoneration and will do anything to make people feel like you’re the victim. Most ex cons do that. But in my travels I have truly seen it all. I have seen cons that truly do change their life and I applaud the changes they have made. People, as a general rule, do not. I’m a show me person. Walk the walk. Keep in mind I know PLENTY of convicted felons in and out of lock up and some, but very few, I call friend and that list grows shorter by the day.

        As for adultery being a crime… Huh? That is a crock.

        Last comment: Most violent criminals will always be violent. Most thieves will always…you can guess where I’m going with this. There are people in this world who cant accept the facts plain and simple.

        Punishment should be swift and sure not laden with countless appeals which waste taxpayers money. If you get the death penalty, 1 appeal. Make a good one. Then lights out. ANY violent crime, even committed in the acts of passion, lights out. I don’t feel sorry for you or any other excon. I do commend you for serving your time and making a go of it and wish you much sucess. Bear

  7. AnnaBaileyPopejoy

     /  December 12, 2011

    Obviously we haven’t learned anything from history? Prohibition didn’t work, neither is the War on Drugs. Our prisons and jails are bulging at the seams because they’re filled with non violent drug offenders. Certainly our resources could be put to better use. Make it legal, tax it. Those that partake, will use regardless if it’s legal or not, the same as they did alcohol during Prohibition. Our borders and homeland will be safer by no longer making it a profitable enterprise for the cartel’s and gangs to smuggle their product to the American consumer.
    I’ve seen lives and families destroyed by both alcohol and illegal drugs. The drug/alcohol isn’t the source of the problem, the individual user is. If a person is an addict or an alcoholic we need social programs that address & support that issue. We don’t solve it by incarcerating them along with those who are the real threat to society….like rapists, murderers, etc. Somewhere along the way we have lost our yard stick.

    Sorry…got off the subject a bit.

  8. bear

     /  December 13, 2011

    The sad part of all the comments is that there is some truth in all the statements made. There will never be an end to the drug war. And the penalties levied are not severe enough, but what is the solution. Legalization? Taxation? No prison sentence or even jail time? There are many countries including the U S that depend on the drug trade boost the economy. Just as much as oil, corn, wheat, etc, I don’t have the answers. Never said I did, but as Americans we need change and soon. So let’s send a message to our leaders demanding reform and let them know that they are accountable to us the citizens of the UNITED STATES of AMERICA. Send letters to Congress, Senate even the President. Keep sending until we get answers not smoke and mirrors. If I have offended anyone with my rants, TOO BAD. VOTE!


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