Wednesday, February 22, 2012

Justice and Prison

I have thought for some time that our prison system was unjust. It turns out that it's also unneccessary. An article in the New Yorker addresses both the injustice of our prisons, and what reduces crime.

One problem is that our justice system is misnamed. It is a criminal prosecution system. Its interest is not in justice and common law, but in statues, regulations, and procedural correctness. Prosecutors do their best to ensure that exculpatory evidence is never introduced, and work assiduously to avoid jury trials (to save time and money), and juries are never told to consider justice in convicting and giving sentencing recommendations. Is this a prudent way for a just society to order their priorities? Are time and money more important than justice?

A more just punishment would involve restitution, not incarceration. Stealing should involve not just paying back what you stole, but being forbidden the opportunities you used to steal. Embezzlers should not be allowed to go back into positions where they have authority over money.

Crime is prevented by simple things like reducing opportunities to commit them. Dr. Ruwart pointed out almost 20 years ago that if you reward police for reducing crime, instead of convicting criminals, they will act to do so -- and save us money in the process.

Another simple way to reduce crime is not punishing people for owning or using a little weed. (No, I don't use or approve of weed. I'd rather have a drink myself, even though I can readily recognize that ethanol causes a lot more adverse medical outcomes, that can easily be a lot more serious.) Relegalizing opioids and cocaine can come later.

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