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We need to imprison fewer people.

The ACLU released a report on life imprisonment without the possibility of parole, and the shocking numbers of inmates who are incarcerated for the rest of their lives with no hope of getting out — for committing non-violent crimes, usually drug-related. There are money interests in keeping people incarcerated, but there are also cultural and psychological ones. Long sentences are entrenched in the law through mandatory minimums, but they’re also seeded in our national psyche as “normal”:

The U.S. imprisons more people than any other society in the history of the world, with more than 2 million people currently behind bars, and private companies are gunning for more (PDF). The Corrections Corp. of America (CCA), just one of several private prison companies, netted $1.7 billion dollars in 2010. CCA’s president and CEO, Damon Hininger, made $3.2 million in 2010. The Geo Group, another top prison company, raked in $1.2 billion and paid its CEO, George Zoley, $3.4 million the same year. The federal government and state governments across the nation funnel money into these private prisons, making them a multibillion dollar industry.

Like many other businesses, the private prison industry lobbies aggressively for its interests — not a problem in theory until you remember that its primary interest is building and filling prison beds. CCA spent more than $18 million on federal lobbying from 1999 to 2009 and nearly $1 million in 2010. From 2000 to 2010, the three biggest for-profit prison companies made more than $6 million in political contributions.

The ACLU report focuses on nonviolent offenders who have been formally sentenced to life in prison without the possibility of parole. But those individuals are, as the ACLU’s deputy legal director, Vanita Gupta, told me, “just the tip of the iceberg in terms of excessive sentencing and incarceration.” Many more people are serving long prison terms — of hundreds of years — that are effectively life sentences without parole, Gupta said. “We have become inured to excessive sentencing. It’s just become the new normal.”

Compared with life in prison, 10 years sounds short. But think about what you were doing 10 years ago, and then imagine yourself being locked in a 6-by-8-foot cell since then. Our cultural perception of what is a long sentence has become so skewed by the ubiquity of life imprisonment and sentences of 50 years, 100 years and even multiples of 100 years that we have entirely lost perspective on what it means to deprive people of their personal liberty for such exorbitant amounts of time.

Full piece is here.

96 thoughts on We need to imprison fewer people.

  1. I think this is a symptom, as you allude to, of a broader trend: to fund and champion “law enforcement” and the militarization of society while cutting and undermining human services. It’s a political mindset of the far right that has had a pervasive influence, one that claims to favor small government, except when it comes to controlling the public (including people in other countries) through force. That the prison system is highly profitable is almost secondary. The real aim (and I’m sorry to use this term, which some will consider over-the-top) is to create a police state.

    A piece in Democracy Now also points out: “Nationwide, 65 percent of people serving these [life without parole] sentences for nonviolent crimes are black; 18 percent are white. In the federal system, blacks are 20 times more likely to be sentenced to life without parole for nonviolent crime. In some states it’s even higher. In Louisiana, where 91 percent of the people serving these sentences are black, they’re 23 times more likely. In the federal system, Latinos are five times more likely to be sentenced to life for nonviolent crime than whites.”

    A small quibble. You write: “Like many other businesses, the private prison industry lobbies aggressively for its interests — not a problem in theory.” This is actually a huge problem, the lobbying for business interests over the interests of the public.

  2. I agree with what you’re saying, but I have to say, I would feel a lot better for the people if they hadn’t broken the law in the first place. I feel more sympathetic for people who are wrongly incarcerated because they have not committed any crimes in the first place

    1. I really dislike the way that what you’re saying centers all responsibility on the individual instead of examining systemic factors that create the likelihood of crime, in whose interests laws are operating (hint: nobody has done any prison time at all for the economic crash that pushed so many people into poverty, which is a risk factor for crime, and it’s unclear if they’ve even broken any laws), which crimes are deemed worthy of destroying somebody’s life over (white collar crime, or the until recently change cocaine vs. crack problem), and the racism that informs the prison-industrial complex.

      “Breaking the law” isn’t a simple issue of right and wrong. Some laws are stupid. Laws that would indict financial malfeasance on a scale commensurate with the way it destroys people’s lives either don’t exist or are barely enforced. Systemic stressors that drive crime go unaddressed by the US. I have far more sympathy for people who break certain laws–particularly non-violent offenders–than I do for people who’ve had the good fortune either never to find themselves on the wrong side of the law or have been able to use money and privilege to avoid negative consequences if they have.

      1. Yes. Having worked for a year at a middle school in a ganged-up neighborhood in south central LA, i came to a couple of important truths. My kids are like kids anywhere, no better no worse. They’re not any less intelligent, moral, innocent, kind, or fundamentally good than kids in Beverly Hills or kids from the middle of the Bible Belt or anywhere else.They are born, repeat BORN as in no fault of their own, to circumstances that are so different from mine its almost an alternate reality. People say (from the cheapseats) well, they should go to college, get a job somewhere and work their way up the American way. They’re not told they can go to college, society doesn’t expect them to. In fact, (about 93% of my kids were Latino), a large part of our country makes them feel like they’re not even wanted here. Ironically, it’s land that belonged to their ancestors relatively recently, but history is beyond a lot of people. What society tells you you are supposed to be and want is such a powerful thing. I was told I could be anything i wanted, but basically be a doctor lawyer or go into finance like my dad. That’s the mindset i had. My kids did not inherit this mindset. So what are the real options in their neighborhood? At least 90% of the time dead-end service or labor jobs, or join a gang. And i realized that i woudnt want to work at a gas station any more than alot of them do. I say this with no reservations: if i was in their shoes i would totally consider getting with a gang. Their reality is different from mine, they face overwhelming economic and structural inequities whereas i have just the opposite. All of this to say, I would be mighty careful about judging ANY of the choices people from less privileged backgrounds make.

        1. But you can’t just assume that everyone that commits a drug crime and goes to prison comes from a poor neighborhood. A disproportionate number, yes. But not all. The large majority of POC that come from disadvantaged backgrounds do not go on to commit crimes and join gangs. The idea that they do is very insulting. Most people manage to make different choices, and thank god for that. Of course, we know that there is a cycle of poverty and a prison pipeline, and part of that stems from very real issues of isolation and inequality in those communities. I don’t know how to fix that. A year teaching middle school doesn’t qualify you to know how to fix that, either. In my state we have drug court to attempt to fix it the problem of people going to prison due to addiction–I’m seeing first hand that it helps occasionally, but it is not the be all and end all solution. I don’t think the solution is putting less people in prison for committing crimes, either. Sure, marijuana should be legal, but heroin? I’m not down with that. I see what it does to people’s lives. I don’t think it helps to pity people in low income neighborhoods and basically assume that they are bound for gang life. That’s not fair and they know you think that.

          I think drug addiction is a HUGE part of why many petty crimes are committed over and over. And we need to do something about that. Sometimes people do need to be pushed very insistently (read: forced) into treatment. Heroin addiction is very rarely

        2. Whoops, that should read: Heroin addiction is very rarely something that doesn’t harm others. Out of all of the heroin addicts I have met, I have never met one that sold heroin to support their kids.

        3. I think drug addiction is a HUGE part of why many petty crimes are committed over and over. And we need to do something about that. Sometimes people do need to be pushed very insistently (read: forced) into treatment.

          Or we could decriminalize using heroin and make treatment for addiction readily available, accessible, and affordable. If someone does want treatment and doesn’t have money or health insurance, tell me, how easy is it to get treatment voluntarily?

    2. I find your perspective quite shocking. At the very least, setting aside the systemic factors, don’t you think that the punishment should fit the crime?

      And who are you to judge someone who finds themselves in the circumstances that lead them to commit a petty crime? You seem to think that “the law” is somehow sacrosanct, and that breaking it is necessarily the act of some nefarious “other”.

      1. I would also be shocked to hear that BHUesca (or almost anyone) has never broken the law. I sure have! Not in any major way and never in any way that was violent or even impacted anyone else (no stealing, no drunk driving, etc), but in tons of minor ways that could have gotten me in serious trouble had I been caught, especially if I wasn’t a middle class white female.

        1. But the women I work with (felons that are sentenced to probation in a halfway house as part of drug court) have committed more than just petty, drug related crimes. They have been CAUGHT committing petty, drug related crimes…but they have also committed robberies, burglary, assault, selling firearms, child endangerment, fraud, and a bunch of other not so petty crimes. NOw that they are sober, they will admit to the fact that they did a hell of a lot more than they were ever caught doing. And I would not let most of them anywhere near my wallet, even after many months of sobriety. I know lots of people talk a big game about how we want people re-acclimated into society…but if you lived next door to them, I would bet a million dollars you’d lock your door (or wish you had). One of the women stole six figures from her employer (small business owner). He never gets it back. She was in jail for two months. So …. I mean, that is the other side.

        2. I lock my door every damn day. Why wouldn’t I? I’ve always wondered that about people in horror movies. Lock your door and hang up on anonymous callers. Problem solved.

          So these women have done other bad things. If we as a society want to see that they do time for those other things, I guess we’d better be able to legally prove it in court while respecting their rights. If we can’t, too bad on us. You don’t get to do it via the back door of sentencing people to stupid sentences for selling pot.

        3. To me, part of the point is that even our sentences for things that everyone agrees should be criminal law (e.g., violent crimes, theft) are draconian. Just because you’ve done something wrong doesn’t give society license to crush you like a bug. There has to be proportionality, there has to be some recognition that a sentence of imprisonment is a grievous harm, and it seems like we left both of those concepts behind a long time ago.

        4. But they aren’t getting stupid sentences for selling pot. They are getting zero time for selling heroin. They are sitting in jail for a month or two before they get into drug court, where they do go out into the world. When they relapse (which, let me tell you, most of them do), they then go back to jail for 14-30 days. Then they get into another program and do it again. Just this weekend one of the people in the halfway house stole 100 dollars from one of the other women, and they aren’t even using. I hear a lot about how we give too much jail time for petty crimes like drug possession…but then I never see it in real life. I read all of the articles, too. And I realize that some people are more likely to get arrested. Hey, I’m black with black kids and a black husband. I get it. But, for all those articles I read about how people get life for stealing a stick of gum, I see about 2 dozen women who get multiple charges thrown out in exchange for turning in someone else or in exchange for going to drug court and pleading guilty to selling drugs. Instead, I see people getting a month or two or probation for multiple drug crimes in a row. I see people violating their probation over and over and over and OVER and then still getting chance after chance. I have loved ones who have had their homes broken into because a dude wants something to sell so they can cop. The same kid walks because there is too little proof that he did it. Then he comes right back into the neighborhood and does it again to the next door neighbor. Cool, great. Nothing anyone can do about it. People can’t leave the neighborhood because it is too hard to sell right now. Dude can’t be arrested. But one day he gets caught and then he gets probation. Excuse me if I don’t feel sorry for him. I feel like the only people who really feel sorry for people that get jail time because they got caught are folks that live in nice neighborhoods and don’t have to deal with this bullshit every single day. People who don’t know anyone who could use some serious time to get their head right. I’m sorry, but I’m not that naive. I wish I was.

        5. My brother is a meth addict and a thief. He’s been to prison twice already and is now sitting in jail again because he stole someone’s rv and was living in it ffs. He’s 35 tomorrow and will spend it in jail. I can’t even list all the crap he’s not gotten busted doing, and he’s drained my parents dry financially. Retired in their 60s and they have no more savings. I give them extra money which means I will not save much. He’s stolen from them, me, my husband, my daughter and my grand mother when she was alive. Lowlife thugs have been brought to my parents house to squat while my dad was in icu for 3 months, almost dying. People have shot at my parents house because of my brothers choices. Stolen their vehicles in retribution for my brother stealing or scamming them. And at this point, if his ass goes to prison for life, good. Maybe his family can get a breather. At this point I care as much about his rights as he did mine. Only he EARNED that, I was just his victim. Again and again.

        6. And it’s a helluva lot easier to give people chances when it’s not your life they’re going to fuck each time. A ten year break would have been nice after the first time he was busted for drugs. Might actually have been able to purchase a house and not live paycheck to paycheck paying rent. We get to be the collateral damage of his lenient sentences. And I’m sick of being that sacrificial lamb. Sorry.

        7. So basically, anon, you’re contesting the accuracy of the ACLU report, and that’s the basis of our disagreement.

          Pheeno, my grandmother was addicted to diet and sleeping pills (speed and barbituates) and it only exacerbated her general horrible abusiveness. And I loathe her and don’t give two shits about her rights, either, and the only thing I regret about her death is that it happened so late. She was a drain on her mother and my mother and abused everyone, physically and emotionally. But nobody ever shot at the house, because she got her drugs legally prescribed. I can’t help but see that as a better outcome than the one involving shootings.

        8. His thievery and conning people got the house shot at. He can’t and won’t hold down a job and even legal drugs cost money, especially when you abuse them. He isnt going to ever magically start legally making money to purchase his dope, legal or not. And we have nothing left to steal. So he steals from others. He was stealing oil field equipment, until he got busted for the rv. So how does legalizing drugs make abusers legitimately earn the money to buy them? Meth is pretty cheap here and he’s so dope fucked now that he isn’t ever going to fix that. His brain has been chewed away.

        9. He stole my daughter’s dvds, pawned them and bought cigarettes 3 weeks ago. Tobacco is legal. He still steals to buy them.

    3. My mother recently visited Saudi Arabia for pilgrimage. She was shocked to see many kids (many <10 years) having only one hand and some with none, otherwise seemingly fine. She learned that it was because their hands had been chopped off, usually for petty theft. Would you say the same here? Depriving someone of their life for a petty nonviolent crime is worse than chopping hands. At least the kids are free to move around, if not steal a piece of candy or something.

        1. Unfortunately there are no age restrictions in Sharia generally, except that you can’t marry someone less than 9 and even that is contentious since some scholars say you only can’t consummate the marriage earlier, but you are free to marry.

    4. You are proof of the point about our over-the-top carceral system being normalized by cultural and psychological factors. “If you didn’t do anything wrong, why do you care if someone spies on you? If you aren’t a criminal, you won’t go to jail.” This is neoliberal garbage, in which everything is attributed to the individual as though there is no such thing as cultural factors. In this vision, people just spring forth fully-formed, like Athena from the head of Zeus.

      I bet you also think that poor people are poor because they need to make better choices.

      1. I would totally be okay with being spied on by the good guys. The ones who don’t actually do anything wrong. However the current track record of government agents is well… very very poor. See:
        McCarthy, Internment camps, torture, every corrupt cop ever, the protection cops grant their friends, the treatment of homosexuals, junk science or other bogus “evidence” used to get convictions and the Lacey Act. And oh so much more.

        So if you replace the government with a team of angels sure. Spy away. In the mean time we need our rights protected.

    5. I’m an anarchist, so I’m against the idea of centralized, authoritarian law. But you don’t have to be an anarchist like me to see how some laws are unjust to the core and so don’t deserve any respect.

      Some people need to make a living through illegal activities that don’t harm anyone else. There are trans women, for instance, who escape their communities to be safer from hatred and the threat of violence from transmisogynistic people – and many of these trans women become homeless without any source of income whatsoever. Among those trans women who run away, however, are more fortunate ones who manage to support themselves by selling drugs like marijuana. What is considered a horrible, immoral activity in the eyes of many people is a blessing for many desperate trans women who need money for food, shelter, and health care expenses – among those being various trans health necessities, such as HRT.

      And the sad thing is, the best possible outcome of gaining money from selling drugs is the outcome that is more likely to happen for white, straight, neurotypical, able-bodied trans women. Who, exactly, is being harmed when a poor, disabled, neuroatypical, bisexual trans woman of color sells a large quantity of marijuana to someone? No one. Is she being such a horrible person by selling weed that she deserves to not only lose her means of financial support, but also be sent to a prison that is most likely male-only and so face a very high risk of being raped, beaten, or even killed? I don’t think so.

      I’m an anarchist trans woman in the process of getting away from transmisogynistic family members – does that I’m totally okay with becoming a drug dealer in order to help pay for HRT? No, but only because it’s very risky for many reasons.

      For you, breaking the law might be something immoral and worthy of contempt in some other way. But for countless other people, it’s sometimes a necessity. And the situation I described above is just one of many examples of that necessity. Please consider the millions of people oppressed by unjust laws before you say that all criminals are reprehensible. Law abidance is no yardstick for basic human decency.

      1. Some people need to make a living through illegal activities that don’t harm anyone else. There are trans women, for instance, who escape their communities to be safer from hatred and the threat of violence from transmisogynistic people – and many of these trans women become homeless without any source of income whatsoever. Among those trans women who run away, however, are more fortunate ones who manage to support themselves by selling drugs like marijuana. What is considered a horrible, immoral activity in the eyes of many people is a blessing for many desperate trans women who need money for food, shelter, and health care expenses – among those being various trans health necessities, such as HRT.

        I totally agree with your sentiment, I just see one flaw in your logic, and it’s that the illegality is the thing which allows these runaways to make money of these substances. You rarely hear of runaways, trans or otherwise, supporting themselves selling home-brewed beer. If you made all drugs legal, then they would have to sell something else illegal. I’m not saying this is an argument in favor of legalizing drugs, more of an unintended consequence.

        1. the illegality is the thing which allows these runaways to make money of these substances.

          Very true. But I’m just saying that breaking the law is not always wrong. Whether the illegality of something like, say, marijuana is helpful to those runaways is irrelevant to my point, as I see it.

    6. Honestly, I think the arguments about laws not necessarily being just or structural factors that contribute to increased offense rates among particular groups of people, although true in many cases, are kind of beside the point. The length of time we are locking people up is wrong and abhorent EVEN IF they had no excuse for breaking a just law.

      A not-starving person who steals a few hundred dollars of non-essential items? Should not be going to prison for the rest of their life. Someone who mails a small quantity of LSD or facilitates a few drug sales? Should not being going to prison for the rest of their life. Even if the offender was a rich white guy with every advantage in the world, that conduct does not warrant life in prison.

      What you look like and what your life circumstances are have an enormous impact on how the criminal justice system treats you, including what type of sentence you receive (and frequently, what types of charges are brought/pled to), and that’s something that should at least be noted–as Jill did in her piece–every time we talk about the criminal justice system. But social justice communities have a tendency to boil down all issues in the criminal justice system to that, as though overcriminalization and appalling prison conditions and a host of other problems aren’t really that bad in and of themselves. The main problem with BHuesca’s view in the context of this specific issue, IMO, is not that it overlooks race and socio-economic factors that excuse or explain criminal acts but instead that it writes off anyone who committed a crime–even or especially those who didn’t have a good excuse–as unworthy of fair and decent treatment.

    7. As someone who has seen the prison system brutalize and destroy the people closest to her, with a callous disregard for human rights and an almost gleeful level of sadism:

      Take your simplistic worldview and shove it. I’d feel much better about being nice to commenters if they didn’t say stupid things.

  3. I wonder if there is a way to hold an economic boycott of companies who profit from the prison industrial complex. In the 1700s and 1800s, Quakers boycotted dyes found in clothing that had come from slave labor and a variety of products that were indirectly tied to the peculiar institution. Today we might call that ethical consumerism or social justice.

    1. I don’t think Correctional Corporation of America or GEO Group are diversified; that is, I think basically all they do is run prisons. They’re both publicly-traded companies, so one idea would be to pressure union pension funds and government employee retirement systems not to invest in any financial product that purchases shares of prison companies. There are also private contractors who don’t run prisons, but who do provide medical services or supplies to private and state-run prisons. I’m not familiar with specific companies, but it’s possible that they could be more directly boycotted by individual consumers.

      1. Another option would be the lobby shareholders to elect reform minded board members, or even start protesting outside of shareholder meetings. I think that would be more effective than a boycott anyway, depending on the visibility level attracted.

  4. Really excellent points about the normalization of ong but non-life prison sentences, Jill. I felt this keenly when I clerked in the federal system—at some point, you start to lose your sense of shock when you see a person sentenced to 5+ years for a non-violent marijuana trafficking offense because hey, you’ve probably worked on a few violent-offense cases with 20+ year sentences recently. Sometimes you just need to take a step back and remind yourself what a profound act of violence it is to take a person away from their community and family and lock them in a hole for years at a time. Our brutal criminal-justice system should be a source of national shame.

  5. It’s not that I disagree with the premise that we lock too many people up…our incarceration rates are positively obscene. But I can’t help but wonder if our propensity to lock people up is more of a symptom than a root cause. We’ve been staring down a stagnant economy for almost a decade now. Our unemployment rate stubbornly refuses to go down, despite the fact that workforce participation is at its lowest rate ever. With the exception of a couple of booming fields, (which most prisoners are unlikely to have appropriate training in) there is no demand for labor, and nothing to indicate that any such demand will be coming any time soon. I don’t mean to be the Debbie Downer here, but…what exactly are we going to do with them if we don’t keep them in prison? Most of them are going to have little to no economic prospects in our modern economy…heck, that’s probably why most of them ended up in prison in the first place!

    1. Incarceration rates, as Jill’s article notes, have been on an upward trend for decades. How well the economy is doing has nothing to do with it.

      And I realize you were being flippant, but suggesting prison is preferable to unemployment is insulting to the unemployed and trivializes the experiences of the incarcerated.

      1. Apologies for my tone – it was not my intension to belittle the plight of either the umemployed or the imprisoned. (I’ve been fortunate enough to have never been in jail, but not so fortunate as to avoid a long spell of unemployement, and it sucked.) I was merely trying to point out that prison reform, as noble a goal as it may be, is unlikely to be very successful unless coupled with significant economic reforms. I think David Simon is right on when he says that the American economy has decided it doesn’t need large swaths of the American population, and so we make sure that those who wander out of their appointed ghettos are locked up. We live in a system where you’re expected to work if you want to eat. But if there aren’t any jobs…what alternative do people have except crime and, ultimately, prison?

        1. I don’t disagree that more jobs would be nice, but job growth in our country never seems to impact the cyclical poverty prevalent in low-income communities. For a variety of factors, which have to be taken into account so there can be a targeted job creation effort that might actually affect poverty and income distribution rates.

    2. what exactly are we going to do with them if we don’t keep them in prison? Most of them are going to have little to no economic prospects in our modern economy…heck, that’s probably why most of them ended up in prison in the first place!

      I would call into question the way you’re referring to our prison population. Them this, them that, what will we do with them, this is why they ended up in prison? You’re de-humanizing a lot of decent people who yes broke a law for whatever reason, but in the vast majority of cases were born into considerable disadvantage through zero fault of their own. Then our system throws its convicts into a brutal, often gang-controlled prison system that further traumatizes them, and when some of them understandably do find it hard to integrate back into lawful society, we act like it’s because they were bad people in the first place. I could go on, but I’d ask you to try to have some empathy for fellow humans.

        1. I understand TT to be objecting to Little Raven’s characterization of people in prison as “them,” in implicit opposition to “us,” as if the group of people whose opinions matter and who decide what happens is somehow a group wholly separate from anybody who is or ever could end up in prison.

        2. Yes and yes. I don’t object to the they by itself, it’s the “what are we going to do with ‘them'”, and that’s how “they” ended up in prison. We wouldn’t talk about any other group like this; prisoners are individual people with their own stories and backgrounds, so i think they should be viewed as such, simple as that.

    3. To be fair, ignoring the fact that incarceration rates have increased regardless of economic cycles, there have been a fair number of recent stories about Americans robbing banks of dollar bills and then waiting there to be arrested, just to get medical care or a place to sleep…

    4. I would point out that there would be many more jobs if we, as a country, did not use prison labor (at below minimum wage, of course) to manufacture, for example, the blue books my university uses for exams. We could even make those union jobs that pay a living wage and have benefits.

      1. We could even make those union jobs that pay a living wage and have benefits.

        Sure, we could do all kinds of things. But you and I both know that we’re not going to do those things. There are tens of thousands of desperate Bangladeshis just waiting to make blue books for your university, and at a fraction of the cost of minimum wage.

        I realize I’m tone-deaf, and I apologize for that, but I really don’t think it’s a coincidence that the incarceration rate of lower-class men, (particularly black lower class men) started spiking once the factory jobs started going away. Society once needed these people for their labor – the jobs were hard and the pay was low, but at least it was something. But between outsourcing and automation, our economy simply doesn’t need them anymore. There’s incredibly fierce competition for the few outstanding crappy jobs that remain at the bottom of the ladder, so large numbers of men naturally start to drift away from the system altogether, or try and make a living outside of it – which gives us a great excuse to lock them up. And so we do.

        I’m all for not locking people up so much, but I don’t think that’s going to be enough. Unless we do something about an economy that caters to a smaller and smaller percentage of the population every year, I suspect a revolving door on the prison system will be as good as it gets.

        1. Are they also willing to come over here and fight wildfires for a pittance?

          The point I’m making is precisely what you are saying: our economy is not modeled on what benefits our population, and it could be. It’s not that there’s no work to be done. It’s that our society is set up to encourage exploitation. There are ways to deal with globalization as well. It’s just that this country would prefer to put that energy and money into incarcerating people.

  6. I’d like to see how that plays out in court; judges know it costs alot to house a prisoner and they’re not that stupid. I’m thinking probation, though i suppose theoretically you could do it over and over and see what happens.

    1. Oi, I hear you! Of course judges also know they’re subject to an extent to public opinion (or Roberts would have killed Obamacare the first chance he got), and booting a dying-of-cancer man out into the streets might run afoul of the public… but who knows how the judicial winds will blow?

  7. True, for the medical care cases i doubt they’d just send them back out, i would imagine they’d get them into a country hospital or something. Though really i have no idea.

  8. Having seen someone receive a 10 year prison sentence for a few ounces of pot (first conviction, was otherwise a law-abiding citizen) and seen someone receive 12 months probation for shooting someone, I don’t think it’s a case of needing to imprison more or fewer people.

      1. I don’t work in the justice system, these are actually people I know (one is a family member, and the other used to be my boss), so I hadn’t really thought of it in that light. I don’t think you are wrong.

  9. Look how many F’s I give about people in jail:

    Oh. None. Perhaps if they find that it really sucks to be in jail, they should have avoided committing crimes that landed them there. Oh, those poor felons! Won’t someone think of the criminals!

    If you can’t do the time, don’t do the crime.

      1. Yeah, explain to me why the people in jail NEEDED to be there? He just NEEDED to kill that guy! She NEEDED to drown her kids! They NEEDED to try to sell that cocaine!

        Try again, really.

        1. Nowhere did I imply that I’m okay with murder, you disingenuous dipshit. Some people have to resort to illegal activities to support themselves, and selling illegal drugs is not immoral or wrong in any way. Prostitution is also illegal, yet many women go into prostitution in order to help support themselves. Many of those people are criminals, but none of them are reprehensible people just because they engage in those particular illegal activities.

        2. Really? Selling drugs is not wrong in any way, you say? Hang on, let me ask Phil Hartman what he thinks about tha-… Oh wait, I can’t. Because after someone sold his wife some cocaine, she went on a bender and then MURDERED HIM.

          Clearly, cocaine is a highly moral substance, and should be sold in every store.

        3. Selling drugs is not wrong in any way, you say?

          Consuming some of them can be potentially dangerous to yourself and others, but no, selling them isn’t wrong. Your example merely shows that you’re grasping for straws at this point.

          Even if my point were invalid, that doesn’t change the fact that selling something like cannabis is completely benign.

          Also, I didn’t argue that cocaine is a “moral substance.” (WTF is a “moral substance”, anyway?) Nor did I say that it should be sold “everywhere.” I simply said that selling drugs isn’t by itself immoral.

        4. I thought she was just really pissed that he was loaded and they had dinner at a chain Italian restaurant, no?

          Ally, at this point, I’m guessing sigh is a troll.

        5. (WTF is a “moral substance”, anyway?)

          Tea. Tea is a fine, upstanding citizen. I would absolutely trust tea to take my children to the park.

          Coffee, on the other hand, is a mean bastard with all the moral fiber of an earthworm.

        6. If only the use is wrong, and not the sale, then why are bartenders held accountable if one of their patrons kills someone behind the wheel, or dies from drinking too much?

          Because the seller holds responsibility for the people they sell it to, genius.

          Amiable, um, no, SHE was loaded, and full of cocaine, and decided to murder him.

          I used the phrase “moral substance” because the other commenter acted like there was nothing immoral about providing stuff like that. I was mocking her.

        7. Because the seller holds responsibility for the people they sell it to, genius.

          Are you appealing to the law again? If so, you still don’t have an argument. Please stop conflating the law and morality. How the mere act of selling someone a drug is immoral is beyond me. And no, unless that woman had no idea what kind of effect cocaine would have on her, she is morally responsible for taking a drug that caused her to be violent. She made the choice to take that drug – all the dealer did was sell it to her. Just as a person who runs someone over due to being under the influence is responsible for that action due to the choice to drink. Again, we’re talking about morality, not the law.

      2. The moral responsibility comes in because none of these actions are in a vacuum. Bartenders know that liquor makes people stupid, bad drivers, and has the potential to cause violence, and in large doses can simply kill the imbiber.

        Someone would have to be a complete [ableist term redacted] to simultaneously be a cocaine dealer, but not understand what it does to people. Knowingly peddling something such as cocaine, or heroin, or what have you, that can cause a person to become a hopeless addict, violent, and possibly dead, I would say, is an immoral act.

        You are viewing things as though each action exists in a private vacuum, and that’s simply not how life works.

        1. “Ableist term”? Are YOU on drugs? Do explain how the word was “ableist”. Please, really, do so. Using only current accepted definitions, not archaic ones that are no longer in use.

          Please, wow me, let’s see it.

        2. Again, the seller is not morally responsible unless the seller deliberately doesn’t inform the customer of what that particular dangerous drug can do (assuming it is known that this person is unaware of the effects of such a drug). If, for instance, I were a drug dealer and I sold someone heroin because I told them that it’s a harmless drug that cures headaches (which is completely false), I would be responsible for that person’s dangerous use of the substance. Otherwise, if I (as the hypothetical drug dealer) sell heroin to someone who clearly knows about its harmful effects, I am not responsible for any dangerous use of the substance – whatever dangerous effects that result from the usage are due to that person’s own informed choice.

        3. Also, I’m not talking about a customer who is likely to have a completely warped understanding how dangerous such drugs are (such as a child). Obviously selling something like heroin to such a person is extremely reprehensible.

        4. Otherwise, if I (as the hypothetical drug dealer) sell heroin to someone who clearly knows about its harmful effects, I am not responsible for any dangerous use of the substance – whatever dangerous effects that result from the usage are due to that person’s own informed choice.

          So, basically, the NRA and corrupt government are completely off the hook for all of the US’ mass killings, as long as those killings were committed by men who knew that firing bullets into people could hurt them.

          So people are justified in selling contaminated food to starving people as long as they remind them the food isn’t good for them.

          So back-alley quacks are not responsible for people who die because of their medication/treatment, as long as they say “hey buddy, just so you know, sometimes medicine can have harmful effects”.

          Are they legally responsible? Probably not. Are they morally responsible? Hell yes.

          I mean, you want to make that argument for essentially harmless drugs like marijuana or caffeine or whatever, go right ahead, but wow, it’s pretty morally bankrupt when it comes to drugs everyone knows are addictive and incredibly harmful. And before you come back at me with the “what if someone were starving” argument: sure, if someone’s starving they’d probably sell drugs. Or carjack people. Or break into homes. Or commit bank fraud. The solution isn’t to say that carjackings and burglaries and faked cheques are perfectly moral actions, it’s to try and deal with that systemic poverty in the first place. And to distinguish between someone who sold ten grams of cocaine and a large-scale dealer.

        5. And of course the dealer doesn’t have ALL the responsibility. Any more than rape culture doesn’t have ALL the responsibility for rapes. Rapists choose to rape. So why blame rape culture?

          It is not morally neutral to prey on the predictable weaknesses of people for financial gain. If I’m bringing a pile-on on myself, so fucking be it. This is disgusting.

        6. It is not morally neutral to prey on the predictable weaknesses of people for financial gain.

          Well, it is hard to imagine someone who doesn’t have any predictable weakness trying to buy cocaine from someone. And while they aren’t necessarily as ill-informed as a child, I can see how selling a drug can still be a way to prey on certain weaknesses. I was going to make an argument about how all of this reasoning would lead one to consider the sale of alcohol to be immoral as well, but then I realized that alcohol is nothing like heroine, cocaine, etc. I mean, those drugs are pretty much automatically addictive, from what I’ve heard.

          And I can see why your other analogies make sense, too. My main motivation behind defending the sale of dangerous drugs is that I don’t want to make things harder for people who are trying to sell drugs to survive, but at the same time, there has to be a clear boundary somewhere. So I’ll concede your point.

        7. I suppose another way to phrase your point is that, while the dealer isn’t directly responsible for any dangerous effect of the drugs they sell, they are still indirectly responsible – and that still matters. Is that right?

        8. I was going to make an argument about how all of this reasoning would lead one to consider the sale of alcohol to be immoral as well, but then I realized that alcohol is nothing like heroine, cocaine, etc. I mean, those drugs are pretty much automatically addictive, from what I’ve heard.

          Yeah, that’s pretty much the only reason I don’t draw that line, too. Or cigarettes, simply because that’s an entirely internal addiction (I mean, “Man smokes cigarette, beats 9 to death” isn’t really a headline anyone expects).

          My main motivation behind defending the sale of dangerous drugs is that I don’t want to make things harder for people who are trying to sell drugs to survive

          I definitely think that people who are selling drugs to survive need help, and not help of the “throw away the key” kind. However, there’s no really effective way to deal with that other than to attack structural issues of poverty IMO. Certainly, “let’s legalise the mass sale of cocaine and meth” isn’t my solution of choice. I do have sympathy for their situation; I just don’t see that that sympathy has to extend as far as letting them off the hook for the consequences of their actions entirely. Thanks for listening. I know I was pretty angry-sounding.

    1. It’s certainly a good thing that all laws are just, justly enforced, with reasonable punishments. I’d hate to think what would happen if even one, let alone all three, of these things were untrue.

      Truly, the US is a shining beacon unlike any other society in the history of the world.

      1. See, fun fact: Whether or not YOU, some internet commenter, thinks a law is just or right, doesn’t really matter to the law.

        Maybe you’re like Ron Paul, and you think all drugs should be legal all the time, and therefore the law against drugs is stupid.

        Doesn’t mean its suddenly NOT THE LAW anymore. Its still the law. Choosing to willfully break the law because you disagree with it doesn’t make you any less of a criminal.

        Just because you personally don’t agree with a law doesn’t give you the right to then break it.

        1. [C] In hindsight, poor phrasing. Not quite sure here how to convey the necessary information. It works in qualia but not in English. Please wait…

        2. Yes, congratulations, Sigh, you understand how the law works. However, unlike you, I don’t give the law power over my brain. We are ultimately responsible for the law.

          The law’s power does not make it just; and people who break unjust laws and are punished for it earn much more of my sympathy than “law and order” internet commenters who are too unimaginative to understand there are times when breaking the law is necessary and appropriate, and other times when it’s just plain human.

        3. And by the way, as I don’t surrender my ability to think for myself about morality to the law, I absolutely reserve my right to break the law. “Obeying the law” is not an inherent virtue. That always and only depends on what the law is.

    2. The problem is one of discretionary enforcement.

      Way back when, there were relatively few things which were illegal: violence, stealing, and so on. We eventually called those “felonies.” In those days, a “criminal” was someone who had committed a serious crime, which were relatively rare.

      These days, we have vastly expanded the criminal code to make all sorts of things illegal. Many people (me included!) violate at least one criminal law on a daily basis. I jaywalked only this morning. I’ve had a beer in public from an open can. I’ve rolled through a stop sign. I’ve driven over the speed limit. I’ve known many people who have (for themselves or for their children) entered to a completely-hidden section of a public park, to pee behind a bush. There are all sorts of illegal things which I can’t do even in the privacy of my own home.

      That may sound flip, but it isn’t. If we’re all criminals, then enforcement becomes a matter of discretion.

      To put it differently: Under a limited criminal code, a criminal was someone who committed an act way outside of social boundaries. Under our modern criminal code, a criminal is whoever the government wants it to be. And unsurprisingly, the government has chosen to focus enforcement efforts on people OTHER than rich, powerful, mostly-white, folks.

      Once you cross the line from “non target” to “target” and once the government has brought all of its weapons to bear, you’re doomed. because almost NOBODY–cops or moms or governors or clergy or kids or teachers or anyone else, rich or poor–NOBODY goes through life without breaking at least one law, sometime.

      1. And FWIW, liberals are far from blameless here. Both sides have been complicit in the expansion.

        Every time you hear someone say “there should be a law…” or “we should make that illegal…” and every time you see a rapidly-passed law with a name attached to it, dig deeper. And keep your protest flags ready.

        Ask yourself before you say “there oughta be a law:” do you want EVERYONE in jail who does it? Do you want people denied employment; losing custody; losing income; losing their houses; because they were convicted of it? Do you want the current police system enforcing it; do you want people shot by the police for “resisting arrest” when they’re arrested for it? Do you want the current court system ruling on it? Do you want the current prison system incarcerating the resulting prisoners?

        Not everything bad should be illegal. Not even close. Liberals should know that more than anyone.

        For those who share an interest, here is an interesting article on the growth of federal crimes (by which I mean the expansion of “what is illegal,” not the expansion of illegal actions) Yes, it’s written by a libertarian group. But this is an issue on which liberals and libertarians share a strong interest and are (or should be) allied.

        1. a lawyer, are you seriously under the impression that laws get made because someone on the street says “there oughtta be a law”?

          If not, perhaps you should turn your finger-wagging admonishments on to the actual interests and people responsible for expanding the criminal code.

        1. I think it’s a right wing reactionary claptrap. Criminality has always been about falling outside of social boundaries in some way. That’s never changed and shows no sign of changing.

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