Category Archives: Mandatory Minimum Sentences

Repost: Anyone Who Believes America is Winning the Drug War Must Be High

Last Friday, June 17, 2011 marked the 40th anniversary of Richard Nixon’s “War on Drugs.” As Jacob Sullum points out here, the drug war didn’t actually begin with Nixon and it’s not likely to end on Obama’s watch (even though the Obama administration admits that current drug policy over this period has been a failure). In marking this dubious anniversary, I thought it would be apropos to repost one of my very first blog posts: Anyone Who Believes America is Winning the Drug War Must Be High.

Those of you who are familiar with my writing here and elsewhere might notice the style is a little different than my normal, more conversational second person style (i.e. I refer to “you” the reader frequently). This is because this essay was originally a writing assignment (note the APA format) for a college writing class I was taking at the time even before I got into blogging (I’ll leave it to you to guess what my grade was). This also means that some of the sources I used are older than what is available now. I have since learned a great deal more about how and why the war on (some) drugs is a failure. The following essay is by no means comprehensive but I still stand by these arguments as well as others we have offered here at The Liberty Papers.

Even in the face of reasonable arguments, proponents of prohibition say legalization would cause “moral destruction of the human soul” (Hannity around the 18 minute mark on this video) or say that those of us who would support anything from decriminalization to harm reduction strategies to outright legalization should spend some time with individuals or families whose lives have been destroyed because of drugs. I would counter that emotional argument with another and suggest that drug war proponents spend some time with Kathryn Johnston’s family or the many other “isolated incidents” whose victims have been (in some cases, innocently) traumatized, maimed, or killed as a result of a no knock raid gone wrong. I wonder if these actions resulting from the current drug policy cause any moral destruction of the human soul?

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    Anyone Who Believes America is Winning the Drug War Must Be High

Could legalizing drugs be the answer to reducing drug use in America? Most people would probably call that idea crazy. Why would the government want to encourage drug use? This is a misconception most people have when the taboo topic of legalizing drugs is brought up. Many people believe that because something is legal, the government is somehow saying it is right. Tobacco is a legal product yet it is constantly under attack. When was the last time the surgeon general told the public that tobacco is safe and healthy? Could this reasoning apply to other drugs that are currently illegal, yet kill far fewer people than tobacco? In fact, tobacco kills more people every year than all illicit drugs combined (McWilliams, 1996). What would happen if tobacco was suddenly illegal? Would people who want to smoke try to find and buy cigarettes despite it being a banned substance? What would the consequences be of this prohibition? The result of course would be a complete failure, just as the prohibition of drugs has been a failure. There are three main reasons why the prohibition of illegal drugs should end: it is ineffective, it causes unnecessary strain on the criminal justice system, and above all, it is dangerous.

Prohibition is Ineffective
America spends roughly $30 million (Federal and State) a day to fight the war on drugs (Stossel, 2004). The White House is requesting for congress to appropriate an additional $556.3 million for the 2005 fiscal year above the 2004 figure of $12.1 billion (The White House Office of National Drug Control Policy, 2004). If money was the solution to the drug problem, it would have been solved by now. Unfortunately, money and the programs the money supports has done very little to solve the problem.

While politicians fight this war from the comfort of their air conditioned offices, law enforcement officers see things from another perspective. An organization of police officers who oppose the drug war known as Law Enforcement Against Prohibition (LEAP), conducted a national survey among police officers. The survey found that 95% believe America is losing the drug war. Over 90% believe that treatment and prevention is more effective than incarceration. When asked what would happen if drugs were discriminations or legalized, 30% of the police officers believed there would be no effect or that usage would go down (McNamara, 1995). Based on these statistics, one could imagine the frustration these police officers are dealing with and the morale for fighting on cannot be very high. Retired narcotics officer and LEAP board member, Jack Cole put it this way:

After three decades of fueling the [drug] war with over half a trillion tax dollars and increasingly punitive policies, illicit drugs are easier to get,cheaper,and more potent than they were 30 years ago. While our court system is choked with ever-increasing drug prosecutions our quadrupled prison population has made building prisons this nationÂ’s fastest growing industry, with two million incarcerated-more per capita than any industrialized country in the world. Meanwhile drug barons continue to grow richer than ever before (2002).

One might conclude that with this number of people serving time for drug offences, this would be an effective deterrent. While some people may decide not to take drugs because of the sentences associated with them, most rightly conclude that the odds of getting caught are very slim. The people who are most likely to get caught are the poorest Americans. Police concentrate their efforts to fight drugs on the poor neighborhoods. The rich are less likely to get caught because police do not typically patrol rich neighborhoods unless there is a reason to suspect the illegal activity (McWilliams, 1996). Even innocent people who happen to be poor are not exempt from punishment. Strict drug laws for public housing tenants go beyond the offenders themselves. The law states that tenants are responsible for anyone who enters the property, who participates in illegal drugs in any way, on or off the premises. This means that parents who are doing the best they can to be productive citizens could be evicted from their home if their teenager brings drugs into the home. The Supreme Court ruled that the law does, in fact apply to the tenant regardless of whether the tenant has knowledge of the criminal activity or not (Pilon, 2002). Is it right for the government to remove innocent people from their homes in the name of fighting the war on drugs?

Prohibition Puts Unnecessary Strain on the Criminal Justice System
Mandatory minimum sentencing laws for drug offenders is a major cause for prison over crowding. Violent offenders, who have no mandatory minimum sentence requirements for their crimes, are released early to make room for non-violent “criminals” who do (Cole, 2002). Federal sentencing guidelines require a five year prison sentence for possessing a single gram of cocaine. One gram is equivalent to a single packet of sugar (FAMM, 2002). Approximately 4,000 people are arrested daily for selling or using drugs. Roughly a half million non-violent drug offenders are in prison right now, who committed no other crimes (Stossel, 2004). A drug felon is more likely to spend more time in prison than someone who steals, rapes, molests children or even kills (McWilliams, 1996). Is society better off locking up someone for drugs than any of these other more serious offences?

Making room for a half million non-violent drug offenders means allowing a half million violent felons to roam free. Peter McWilliams, author and expert on consensual crimes, made this observation and stated:

Here’s how over worked law enforcement is in the United States: Only 21% of the people who commit murder and negligent manslaughter, forcible rape, robbery, aggravated assault, burglary, theft, motor vehicle theft, or arson are ever arrested; 79% of them – almost four out of five get off scot-free (1996, p200)

In an effort to alleviate the problem of overcrowding prisons, some jurisdictions have turned to “drug courts” as a solution. Recognizing the ineffectiveness of incarceration, Florida policy makers created drug courts as an alternative for first time non-violent drug offenders. Through the drug courts, drug offenders are given a chance to seek treatment instead of serving prison time. Florida’s drug courts have served as a model for the rest of the country (Facts.com, 2002). In fact, the White House is recommending an increase of an additional $32 million for fiscal year 2005; nearly twice the amount appropriated in 2004 for these drug court programs (The White House Office of National Drug Control Policy, 2004). While forced treatment is a better alternative than prison, treatment is only effective for those who truly want to get help. Even if drug users kick the habit, the criminal record that goes with it still has its consequences.

Drug Prohibition is Dangerous and Breeds Crime
Drug prohibition, as well intentioned as it may be, has at least one more consequence: it breeds crime and is dangerous. Why is it that people who, after being released from prison, return to a life of crime? Do they like being criminals? To answer these questions one must consider this: convicted felons cannot apply for federal student loans, have a difficult time finding jobs, have a difficult time buying or renting homes and are prohibited from voting (unless their civil rights are restored). There are no distinctions made between violent and non-violent offenders; a felon is a felon (McWilliams, 1996). The criminal record leaves ex-convicts with very few choices. The only market these most of these people qualify for is the black market. The experience of being locked up with violent criminals teaches inmates how to commit more crimes better.

Only 15% of people who try illicit drugs become addicts (Cole, 2002). For this unfortunate 15%, they find themselves desperate for more. Because prohibition artificially inflates the price of drugs, addicts resort to crime that does harm other people. Unless the addict happens to be very wealthy, stealing, selling drugs and prostitution are a few options for those whose daily drug habit can cost between $200 and $400 (McWilliams, 1996). Participating in the drug trade is very profitable but dangerous. When one dealer encroaches on another dealerÂ’s territory, very bad things happen. Things like drive-by-shootings, which oftentimes endangers the lives of innocent people (Cole). If drugs were legalized, the price would drop dramatically and the drugs could be obtained safely. Even chronically addicted people would spend no more than $5 a day. Supporting a $5 habit would be a great deal easier than supporting a $400 habit. All that would be required would be a part-time job (McWilliams, 1996). In fact 80% of all crime is related to drugs one way or another. It is then reasonable to believe that legalizing drugs would reduce crime by 80% (Cole). Law enforcement could then use its limited resources on the other 20%.

Prohibition is also responsible for much of the health risks commonly associated with banned drugs. Risks include: selling drugs to minors, dirty needles and paraphernalia, uncertain dosages, and contamination (McWilliams, 1996). If drugs were legalized, the government could regulate and set quality control standards for all drugs; much like alcohol and tobacco. To keep children from purchasing drugs, the seller would have to be licensed and could only sell to adults. Currently, drug dealers sell to anyone who will buy them, including children. Quality control standards would result in a lower occurrence of overdoses. The users would know how potent the product is by its labeling. Dirty needles and paraphernalia would no longer be an issue (Cole, 2002). The drugs could also be taxed to fund treatment programs to help those who want to get off drugs as well as drug education programs for schools.

Conclusion
The very idea of legalizing drugs is a scary prospect to most people. Upon further examination however, one thing is very clear: the current strategy is not working. Though the risks would be dramatically reduced, a number of people would still overdose. Regrettably, though drugs would be less accessible to children, some would still get their hands on them. Minors drink alcohol and smoke cigarettes despite both products being illegal, legalizing drugs would have similar effects. As terrible as that may sound, the drug problem could at least be contained through legalization. Granting amnesty to those who have been convicted of non-violent drug offences along with legalization, regulation, treatment and education would go a long way to reducing drug use and crime in general. It is unrealistic to believe that America will ever be 100% drug free. A certain number of people will use drugs no matter what the laws are. Prohibition continues to do more harm to society than drugs ever will. Ending prohibition, though not a perfect solution, would do much less damage. This effective solution would relieve much of the burden on the criminal justice system and would make America a safer place to live. Until America as a whole believes this and plans to do something about it, our society will remain “high” on its arrogance.

References
Cole, J. A. (2002). End prohibition now!. Retrieved April 22, 2004, from http://www.leap.cc/publications/endprohnow.htm

FAMM (2002). Crack vs. powder cocaine sentencing. Retrieved April 7, 2004, from http://famm.org/si_crack_powder_sentencing.htm

Facts.com (2002, February 15). Drug courts. Retrieved April 8, 2004, from http://80-www.2facts.com.ezproxy.apollolibrary.com/ICOF/Search/i0700280_1

McNamara, J. D. (1995, April 9). Cops view of the ‘drug war’. San Francisco Examiner,. Retrieved April 7, 2004, from http://www.leap.cc/publications/copsview.htm

McWilliams, P. (1996). Ain’t nobody’s business if you do: The absurdity of consensual crimes in our free country. Los Angeles, CA: Prelude Press.

Pilon, R. (2002, September 9). Tenants, students, and drugs: A comment on the war on the rule of law. Retrieved April 7, 2004, from http://www.cato.org/pubs/scr2002/pilon.pdf

Stossel, J. (2004). Give me a break: How I exposed hucksters, cheats, scam artists and became the scourge of the liberal media…. New York: HarperCollins.

The White House Office of National Drug Control Policy (2004, March 1). National drug control strategy FY 2005 budget summary. Retrieved April 10, 2004, from http://www.whitehousedrugpolicy.gov/publications/policy/budgetsum04/index.html

Is it Possible that More Conservatives are Getting a Clue About Criminal Justice Reform and Even the War on (Some) Drugs?

Up until about Monday of this week, such a question would have made me laugh. As I have increasingly involved myself in criminal justice issues, I have found the Democrats to be slightly more willing to take on the Prison Industrial Complex, mandatory minimum sentences, and decriminalization (if not outright legalization) of marijuana. These Democrats are typically vilified as being “soft on crime” for suggesting alternatives to hard time for non-violent crimes such as the ones I recently wrote about in my movie review for It’s More Expensive to do Nothing.

And no, I’m not talking about Ron Paul/Rand Paul*Gary Johnson, or Republican Liberty Caucus Conservatives here, I’m referring to the traditionally “tough on crime” Social Conservatives like Texas Gov. Rick Perry and former Attorney General Ed Meese who usually take pride in legislating morality. Radley Balko wrote an article at Reason about this new Conservative project called Right on Crime. While I haven’t had the chance to review the website for myself, what Balko has reported about the project is very encouraging: they actually recognize many of the very problems I have been writing about such as the size and makeup of the prison population, recidivism, and the economic and social costs associated with each.

As if this new project wasn’t enough to get my attention, there was this video that first saw yesterday on my Facebook page from something Pat Robertson said:

Did Pat Robertson just come out in favor of decriminalizing marijuana and criticize mandatory minimum sentences? It’s a freaking Christmas miracle!

While I don’t necessarily agree with some of Right on Crime’s and Robertson’s proposed solutions to reforming the criminal justice system, I find it very encouraging that they are at least beginning to recognize the problems associated with the “tough on crime” mentality. Perhaps now Libertarians, Conservatives, and Progressives can actually have a much needed adult conversation about these issues and find some common ground.

That would at least be a start.

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Hope n’ Change: Pardon Edition

Thus far, President Obama has pardoned 4 turkeys and 0 people. Does anyone else have a problem with this?

George Lardner Jr. writing an article for The New York Times entitled “No Country for Second Chances” does:

If by tomorrow [November 23, 2010] he pardons no one but turkeys, President Obama will have the most sluggish record in this area of any American president except George W. Bush. He’ll have outdone George Washington, who granted a pardon after 669 days. And he will also have outlasted Bill Clinton, who took three days longer than Washington to grant his first pardons. If Mr. Obama waits until Christmas Eve, he will make even his immediate predecessor, who waited until Dec. 23, 2002, seem more generous.

Last month, President Obama turned down 605 requests for commutations — from prisoners who wanted their sentences shortened — and 71 for pardons.

Lardner reports that the Obama administration has requested some hope n’ change with regard to clemency recommendation standards but apparently doesn’t want to grant clemency to anyone (other than turkeys) until then.

The article continues:

It’s difficult to understand why the president has been so unwilling to grant any clemency. As someone who has taught constitutional law, he knows that the founders gave him, and him alone, the power “to grant reprieves and pardons for offenses against the United States except in cases of impeachment.” It is likely that he also knows that a disproportionate number of federal prisoners are black, that mandatory sentencing guidelines have left many of them with excessive sentences and that at least a few of them deserve clemency, whether they’ve asked for it or not.

The president has not only the power but also the responsibility to grant clemency when it is warranted. A pardon can help a worthy former prisoner qualify for a job or a license. But mainly it restores the person’s civil rights, including the right to vote.

This puzzles me as well for many of the same reasons. This is one area I thought Obama actually would be a positive force for change but sadly he seems content with the status quo. The status quo being that only politically well connected individuals* or those whose cause for clemency become political causes** in of themselves ever have a realistic chance of success (regardless of merit or lack thereof).

Surly, out of the 4000+ clemency requests, there are at least a few hundred that are worthy of a presidential pardon. Off the top of my head, I can think of one.

Hat tip: The Agitator

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Correcting the so called “Corrections” system

As of today, it should be clear to everyone in this country, that our system for dealing with criminals (I won’t call it a “criminal justice” system since justice has so little to do with it), is utterly broken, beyond any conventional concept of repair.

At this point, again I say, it should be clear we can’t just “fix it”, we need to start over again, with a different concept.

I have a radical idea…. how about this time we start with an HONEST concept… because right now we are anything but honest about what the real function of the “criminal justice” system is; and that dishonesty is what has made all our efforts to date fail miserably.

Today, although we will never admit this to ourselves publicly, there are three things keeping the “Corrections” system going:

1. It’s a jobs program for law enforcement and “corrections” officers, and administrators

2. Non-offending people ARE actually safer when offenders are imprisoned (the problem is, what happens when they get out).

3. We like lots of cops (or at least the IDEA of lots of cops), we want to be “safe”, and we feel that people who do bad should be PUNISHED.

That’s really what it comes down to though, is punishment.

Punishment isn’t SUPPOSED to “help” them. Punishment isn’t supposed to “rehabilitate” them.

The very term “department of corrections” is a hypocritical misnomer.

Americans (and to a large extent most other cultures), put people in prison to punish them, not to “fix” them.

“Correctional system”, “penitentiary”… All high minded hypocritical myths.

The reason “Sheriff Joe” “Americas Toughest Sherrif” is so popular (despite being the worst sort of self aggrandizing, corrupt, civil rights abusing scum) is because he reassures people that he is “punishing the bad guys”; and THAT is honestly what people want.

Eastern State Penitentiary, the first “modern” penitentiary style prison, was deliberately fashioned to resemble monks cells (which is where we got the name for inmate housing units), in the belief that isolation, contemplation, prayer, and penitence (thus the name), would reform criminals into decent men. It was held up as the new “humane” model. In reality it drove prisoners mad and they killed themselves, and each other, in droves.

So long as we refuse to acknowledge the true purpose behind “custodial sentencing” and pretend it has anything to do with the offender coming out better on the other side, we are stuck with what we’ve got (And rapidly getting worse).

We have to stop pretending that punishment does anything but feed our base emotions.

We have to stop pretending that the negative prospect of prison is sufficient to deter criminals from committing crimes. Most criminals by nature have a poor appreciation for consequences, poor impulse control, and an inability to make valid risk/reward calculations.

When you put a criminal away, all you are doing is warehousing him where he can’t commit that crime anymore. That does serve a valid purpose, but it costs a huge amount of money, and doesn’t fix the problem.

The so called “criminal justice” system can no longer serve as a jobs program for law enforcement, lawyers, administrators, and corrections personnel; nor can it simply be warehousing of offenders until we release them to commit their next offense.

So, here it is, really simple; my pie in the sky ideal for how to deal with crime and punishment.

Step 1: drug addiction, possession, use, and sale, must be decriminalized

This has to happen for ANYTHING to have any hope of working. That would eliminate something like 80% of the offenses in higher criminal courts, and drastically reduce prison populations (at least 40%, most likely something more like 80%).

Step 2: We must not only stop, but revert the proliferation of felonies

Right now, you can be convicted of a felony in some states, for as little as selling the wrong kind of fish at the wrong time. We have established a ridiculous number of offenses as “high crimes” (what felonies are intended to be); without any real justification or social purpose, except to inflate those whom the state can claim as convictions, claim higher punitive penalties from, or incarcerate for longer periods of time.

Accordingly, all crimes currently classified as felonies must be reclassified as misdemeanors unless they meet one or more of the following conditions:

1. Physical violence sufficient to cause grievous bodily harm, grievous trauma (such as rape and molestation), or substantial risk of loss of life (or more).

2. Physical or monetary damages equal to or greater than two years income at minimum wage, presuming a 1940 hour work year.

3. Crimes against basic human rights, including terrorism, tampering with courts, deprivation of rights etc…

4. Grave harm to the national security of the united states, including espionage and treason.

5. Criminal negligence, gross indifference, coercion, conspiracy, or fraud sufficient to cause the above.

Step 3: We must completely overhaul our punishment and societal protection model

We must eliminate custodial sentences for non-violent crimes, including felonies, unless those crimes involve:

1. Gross negligence or indifference leading to violent consequences or the loss of life (anything from drunk driving to greater liability issues)

2. Coercion, force or fraud causing damages in excess of five years of minimum wage (because this is effectively slavery for the victim)

3. Special circumstances which are considered “heinous” (more on that later).

We must restore the element of criminal intent into how crimes are charged and sentenced. If there is no intent, then there can be no intentional crime; only crimes of negligence or indifference, which are generally considered far less severe.

In this regard, any action taken while intoxicated or impaired should be considered qualifying, HOWEVER only if criminal damage or injury to others results.

I believe that people should be allowed to drink, swallow or smoke whatever they want, but if their choices cause impairment which then causes damage or injury to others, they should be punished SEVERELY; and crimes involving impairment should be considered intentional for purposes of determining severity.

Also for purposes of determining the severity of an offense, coercion or fraud shall be considered equivalent to force (force being defined as violence, or the threat of violence).

All other criminal offenses should be punished by restitution and compensatory and punitive damages to the victim, compensatory and punitive fines to the state, labor for public benefit, public humiliation, and two years of convict status (which can be reduced by order of a judge only after discharge of all obligations).

Further, on discharge of all other obligations, convicts shall be given a term, of “probation” equal to the length of their existing sentence.

The crimes, sentences, and photographs of all those convicted of criminal offenses should be published in all local newspapers, as well as on local and national web sites; and announced on local television.

All convicts should be required to wear a distinctive article (bracelet, necklace, ankle bracelet etc…) which lists their crime and sentence, and which cannot be covered up while in public.

Convicts must wear this article, until such time as their sentence and obligations have been discharged. At any time, the convict should be legally required to disclose their crime and sentence to anyone who asks; unless doing so would cause danger or disruption.

If a convict is able to earn more than a state mandated minimum wage in their private pursuits, they may continue performing them, and pay restitution and fines directly. If not, then they are directed to work for the state, at a competitive wage for such jobs as they perform, while meeting prevailing employment standards for such a position (i.e. if the only job they qualify for is ditch digger, it’s the only job they can get; and they still have to compete for it with non-convicts).

If the convict is unable to meet basic standards of work, or is unwilling to work, then they will be reduced to menial forced labor at minimum wage. If they refuse this, they will be incarcerated, as a regular inmate, for the term of their sentence.

Restitution, damages, and fines should of course be directly garnished from the convicts wages; but should be considered pre-tax income deductions for tax purposes.

All custodial sentences shall have terms of two, five, ten, twenty five years, or life (or death in states that allow it).

Different charged offenses can be combined consecutively to “stack” sentences; but only if those offenses make up separate criminal acts (if one crime involved 8 different chargeable elements with a 2 year sentence for each, then the convict would receive 8 two year sentences to run concurrently. If he committed the same crime on 8 different occasions, he could receive consecutive sentences, for a total of 16 years incarceration)

There is no parole, however sentences can be reduced (more on that later).

Forcible rape, aggravated sexual assault, sexual molestation, aggravated kidnapping, intentional premeditated or depraved homicide (what would be first degree murder in most jurisdictions), felony murder if the homicide is heinous by itself, any intentional negligent or depraved indifference crime resulting in mass death or mass grievous injury (mass being defined as multiple victims who were not individually targeted, or multiple victims who were unknown to the criminal and whom they had no individual an personal motive to harm), any crime involving tampering with a court or an election, any crime involving the intentional deprivation of an individuals basic human and civil rights (as enumerated in the declaration of independence, and the constitution), torture, espionage, treason; or any attempt to commit those crimes, or conspiracy to commit those crimes; shall all be considered “heinous crimes”.

Heinous crimes should all carry the maximum length of incarceration, and should be eligible for the death penalty in jurisdictions that allow it.

It is important however, that all state and federal laws about the definitions of these crimes must be clarified and harmonized to meet the highest standard of criminal act, and criminal intent (for example, a potentially but not explicitly sexual element to a simple assault – such as public nudity or forced nudity -, would not make it sexual assault. The intent and act must be sexual in nature, and involve sexual contact or acts, or attempted sexual contact or acts. Forcible rape must be limited to actual acts of physical violence, or coercion by threat of violence, resulting in a sexual act).

Oh and yes, I really do believe that voter fraud and election fraud should be punishable by life in prison. So should criminally preventing someone from voting who has the lawful franchise. Any criminal deprivation of rights should be considered as serious as rape or murder.

In addition to their custodial sentence, of course, all penalties that apply to non-custodial sentences would also apply. Restitution, damages, fines and fees, as well as all other conditions of convicts.

Sentences can be reduced, by a judge, on review of the case, and circumstances. A review will be automatically initiated at the time the convict discharges their restitution, damages, and fines, should they do so before the term of their incarceration is completed. Criminals convicted of heinous crimes however, would not be eligible for early release except for humanitarian reasons.

While serving a custodial sentence and incarcerated, unless disabled and unable to do so, the convict will be required to perform productive labor for at least 8 hours a day, five days a week; for which they will be paid at minimum, a base sum equal to the cost of their incarceration (for which they will be charged). They will also accumulate sick leave benefit, and paid vacation days, equivalent to a government employee of the same grade as whatever productive labor they perform.

If the convict is disabled and unable to perform any work, they will be given the same disability status as any disabled individual; and will receive the equivalent of all federal and state disability payments and benefits, to offset the cost of their incarceration.

The convict is to be given the opportunity to voluntarily learn useful job skills, and perform at a useful job at market rates, which can earn them money to pay their fines and restitution.

If the convict has useful skills which can be applied to work that can be performed within the terms of their incarceration without undue risk, this is to be allowed.

The convict is also to be offered the opportunity to work overtime, and earn more money; to be used to pay the cost of their incarceration, their fines and restitution; the balance of which should be the inmates to control as they see fit.

This should not imply the inmate has a right to any job other than basic labor paid at a rate sufficient to cover the cost of their incarceration. Only that the opportunity to seek and perform other employment must be allowed.

If a convict refuses to work, or does not meet minimum standards of work, they are to be restricted to solitary confinement without public exercise, visitation, or communication privileges (excepting legal and spiritual council), and reduced to subsistence ration. Additionally, any work day the convict refuses to work, the cost of their incarceration for that day will be added to their obligations.

Some of this may seem ridiculous (vacation days for convicts?) but it serves an important purpose. The convict should understand, they are performing a job, for pay. They benefit from their own labor, and they have to pay for their own upkeep. If they work harder or more or at a better job, they get ahead; just like everyone else.

This kind of normalization is really the only way to produce people who won’t reoffend when they get out. Get them useful job and life skills they can transfer to the outside world; and get them in the habit of meeting standards of behavior; you’ll see a huge difference.

Any convict caught committing any felony while incarcerated will be subject to immediate extension of their sentence to life in the case of non-violent felonies, or death in the case of violent felonies. Self defense (against ANY crime or attempted crime against them, not just murder) is considered a valid defense against such charges however.

On their release from custody, convicts will be liable to the same penalties and strictures as those who have received non-custodial sentences.

Any further felony committed by any felony convict, whether incarcerated or not, prior to the discharge of any and all obligations (fines, restitution, service or labor), or in the convicts “probation” period will result in an automatic custodial sentence of at least five years; even for offenses that would not normally carry a custodial penalty.

Any violent felony committed prior to the discharge of any and all obligations shall result in an automatic custodial sentence of life in prison, or death.

On the discharge of their fines and restitution, and completion of any service or labor requirements, and any probation period; all convicts shall have all their civil rights restored, including the right to vote, and the right to keep and bear arms.

Private employers may discriminate against convicts, even after their obligations have been discharged, should they choose to do so. The federal, state, and local governments however may NOT discriminate against convicts whose sentences have been discharged however, except for those convicted of Heinous crimes (who should, in general, not be released anyway) or in the case of employment in law enforcement, criminal justice, corrections, national security, or the military.

Any repeat offense of the same felony, or any violent felony by a convicted felon who has discharged their sentence, shall cause a convict to be considered an incorrigible offender, and subject to an automatic sentence of 25 years, life, or death at a judges discretion (25 years for any crime that would normally rate a sentence less than 25 years. Life for any crime that would normally rate 25 years. Death for any heinous crime, or crime that would normally rate life). As always, this is subject to review and reduction by a judge after the convict has discharged their obligations (excepting heinous crimes).

I call this the “one chance, don’t blow it” rule. I believe it is fully justified, because the nature and scope of felonies is being dramatically reduced; the standards for offense are much higher, and the ability of someone to reintegrate into society without re-offending should be much better under this regime.

That’s it. Not exactly simple, but a lot less complicated than our current system… and if anything can work, it ought to be this.

I am a cynically romantic optimistic pessimist. I am neither liberal, nor conservative. I am a (somewhat disgruntled) muscular minarchist… something like a constructive anarchist.

Basically what that means, is that I believe, all things being equal, responsible adults should be able to do whatever the hell they want to do, so long as nobody’s getting hurt, who isn’t paying extra

Innocence Project Press Release: House Passes Bipartisan Bill to Review and Reform the Criminal Justice System

House Passes Bipartisan Bill to Review and Reform the Criminal Justice System

Innocence Project praises the House of Representatives’ leadership and urges the Senate to enact this legislation as soon as possible

(Washington, D.C.: Wednesday, July 28, 2010) – Late yesterday, the House of Representatives passed critical bipartisan legislation, “The National Criminal Justice Commission Act of 2010” (H.R. 5143), to improve the fairness and reliability of the nation’s criminal justice system. Lead cosponsors of the bill include Representatives William Delahunt (D-MA), Darrell Issa (R-CA), Marcia Fudge (D-OH), Tom Rooney (R-FL), and Bobby Scott (D-VA). This historic legislation, originally championed in the Senate by Senator Jim Webb (D-VA), would create a national commission to examine and reshape the criminal justice system.

Barry Scheck, Co-Director of the Innocence Project, a national organization affiliated with Cardozo School of Law that uses DNA testing to exonerate innocent prisoners and pursues reforms to prevent wrongful convictions, praises House leaders for championing this badly needed legislation and urges immediate Senate action.

“The Innocence Project congratulates the House of Representatives today for passing this historic and crucial legislation. Thanks to the leadership of bipartisan cosponsors, including Representatives Delahunt, Issa, Fudge, Rooney and Scott, this critical commission would improve the underlying fairness and reliability of the criminal justice system. We urge the Senate to pass this legislation quickly so that comprehensive review and reform of the system can begin in earnest.”

For the first time since the Johnson Administration, the commission would review the criminal justice system and recommend key reforms that would improve the system’s effectiveness and efficiency, resulting in increased public safety and confidence. The legislation, which has passed out of the House of Representatives and the Senate Judiciary Committee, now awaits final passage in the Senate. There is significant bipartisan support for the bill, as well as support from a range of interest groups representing law enforcement, academicians, criminal justice reform advocates, and faith-based organizations.

Nationwide, 255 people have been exonerated through DNA testing since 1989, according to the Innocence Project. Those cases are a window into the causes of wrongful convictions. For example:

• More than 75% of wrongful convictions overturned with DNA testing involved eyewitness misidentification;
• In about 50% of the cases, unvalidated or improper forensic science was a factor;
• More than 25% of the cases involved false confessions, admissions or guilty pleas;
• In 15% of the cases, informants provided unreliable information.

The National Criminal Justice Commission could look more closely at these and other causes of wrongful conviction and recommend improvements that would help to prevent such miscarriages of justice. Since the commission would be comprised of highly respected figures from throughout the justice system – including judges, prosecutors, defense attorneys, crime victims and other experts – the recommendations would carry significant weight with decision makers. Texas, California, Illinois, Wisconsin and other states have created similar commissions on the state level, and they have led to concrete improvements in those states’ systems of justice.

For additional press inquiries please contact:

Alana Salzberg, Innocence Project
Asalzberg@innocenceproject.org
212.364.5983

This is very good news. Call your senators and tell them to pass this very important legislation so we can begin to repair our broken criminal justice system.

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