Dan Coffey on Prisons: Forgiveness and Reform

In the Iowa Source magazine, I was reading ‘Tis the Season for Forgiveness by Dan Coffey. 

The forgiveness he was speaking of is towards all of the non-violent victimless criminals who are overwhelming our prisons (and, of course, overburdening the taxpayers).  It’s a good article and I’d love to share it with you, but apparently it hasn’t been posted online.  However, he starts off with some quotes from Nicholas Kristoff which I could find online.  These quotes refer to statistics which should move anyone whose heart hasn’t become completely numb to the atrocities of our society (Coffey writes, ” Sometimes statistics speak more eloquently than paragraphs of explanation or generalization.”  How true!)… but this kind of data is already familiar to any reasonably informed citizen (by which I don’t mean to imply most citizens are reasonably informed).

I guess I should type up some of the article in order to share it:

… granting amnesty to those convicted of non-violent crimes.  Sure, there might be a few rotten apples among the blemished, but they’d be the exception, not the rule.

It’s interesting that he uses the image of rotten apples because it’s quite apt.  Rotten apples will rot other apples when you pack them close together.

We could spend the money we would have spent housing them on their educations.  Let them learn a trade. […]  This last summer, the Kentucky Supreme Court announced a pilot project that could save their counties an estimated $12 million a month by allowing thousands of people arrested for nonviolent, non-sexual crimes to post bail immediately after they are arrested.

Ever since getting touch on crime became a politician’s sure-fire bet for re-election, we’ve dug ourselves into a hle that it’s going to be hard to climb out of.  If we can’t afford health care, maybe we can at least afford this.

[…]  More than 7.3 million Americans are confined in U.S. correctional facilities or supervised in the community, at a cost of more than $68 billion annually.  For states with death penalty, savings of up to $1 billion a year could be realized simply by replacing capital punishment with life sentences.

[…]  The war on drugs must be making somebody a bundle, because the cost of imprisoning people convicted of breaking those laws is breaking the back of many a state.  Drug enforcement agencies are also able to seize cash and assets of the people they arrest, often keeping the money in a slush fund for use at their discretion.  This is the same policy that tempted Dallas County sheriff Brian Gilbert to steall $120,000 from a motorist during a routine traffic stop.  Instead of ten years in prison, a judge fined him $1,000 and put him on probation.

So obviously, the people in prison are often not being given the same advantages law enforcement and the courts offer their own.

Until we fix these problems, prudence would suggest that we stop locking people up.  Our prison mess doesn’t go away just because we’ve hidden these institutions out of plain sight.  For every person in prison, at least five others are deeply affected.

[…]  The fashionable policy of “getting tough on crime” resulted in mandatory minimum sentencing laws that took away a judge’s leeway in sentencing.  Other laws were passed requiring those convicted of certain felonies to serve 85 percent of their sentences.  No option for parole.  Any wonder why our prisons are bulging?

So, there you go.  I plan on writing more about this later.