Sunday, June 10, 2007

A Contribution to Society

I was gone a couple of days, listening to some good people describe a problem that likely can't be solved within the existing perspectives and paradigms. Not going to mention the state because it basically applies to most states right now. The whole time I was listening to them describe their corr sent problems, I was thinking two things--"they'll be talking about the same things for the next several generations if they don't junk everything and start over from scratch because patches will just bleed through" and "the only way to think outside this box is TECHNOCORRECTIONS." Could, would, love to be proven wrong, but don't see it happening. All of us in corr sent are trapped by existing laws and structures even if we could agree on other ways to do things, which we clearly don't, and nothing short of wholesale change of those laws and structures will allow the reforms needed. Like I said, you think I'm talking about your state, don't you? And into that breech will sail the pharmaceutical, bioengineering, and surveillance companies, all with their former college cheerleaders happily showing legislators and governors' chief of staffs the latest brochures and industry-funded research.

As worthy (and sad) as all that discussion was, the real news, of course, was Paris Hilton. I've talked more about her even before her fall, rise, and fall last week than I can stomach. The truly good thing about her case really was how it brought all the major points we have to consider as we do corr sent into focus. Equality of treatment? Check, but what is it? Did she can hammered too much or little? Too much privilege or too little? 6 weeks behind bars (okay, just a little over 3) for driving with a suspended license and violating probation. In a city and county with legendary overcrowdedness? That's a good use of resources? Couldn't some restorative shaming have been done here? Standing on the corner of Hollywood and Vine (sorry, only streets I know of there) wearing a sandwich board and an orange jumpsuit and that's it. Yeah, a media show for a few days, but it would have gotten old for Paris after a while and her PR guy hasn't proven the genius in all this, has he? Actually, why not creative sentencing? Food pantry service, anyone? Let Jimmy and Rosalyn Carter have her at some Habitat places for a few weeks. Wanna bet she'd drive without a license again?

It's ironic that the poster child for the vacuous self-absorption and unseriousness of American life in the early 21st century could bring more serious public discussion of the goals and purposes of sentencing, of the tension between using resources wisely and using them to express justice even on the wrong end of the cost-benefit, than all the reports, workshops, legislative debate that have gone before. All by herself, she personifies our sorry response to Ben Franklin's words at the end of the Constitutional Convention when he replied to a questioner about what the convention had created, "A republic, if you can keep it." Our corrections sentencing policy, that in the state whose folks I talked with and across the entire nation, is evidence of why he was skeptical, and the fact that Paris Hilton is the catalyst for any kind of major public thought about it has to be considered a nail in the coffin. TECHNOCORRECTIONS will fit much more easily in a failed republic than in a successful one. But, if you were to ask me, would you really mind if we could put a chip in Paris and make her a contributing member of society in a more conventional way . . . ?

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