Tuesday, June 05, 2007

Sticky Crimes, Sticky Times

“You do the crime, you do the time.” Where did I see this quote last? From an inmate sharing face time with Paris Hilton. That’s right, an inmate. Which raises a couple of points. First, yeah, this is bumper sticker, but powerful because it “sticks.” Like “three strikes and you’re out” and “soft on crime.” The folks who want to change the default policy in corr sent from prison to something more effective just don’t have anything that attaches to the mind as well as these slogans that, while leading to counter-productive policies, capture debates. Those folks need to work on that (maybe by paying attention to this). And notice who said it. Someone incarcerated. Which is pretty much all the proof we need of how ineffective it is if the slogan’s point is to keep people who hear it from committing crimes.

Which leads me to “second.” People behind bars frequently do have a sense of justice, a sense of people needing to pay for their crimes. That means, as we’ve stated here before, that, were we to seriously engage those inmates in discussions of what penalties and punishments would most affect them and their colleagues, would have the best chance of deterring future victimization, rather than writing into law the things that scare away law-abiders from law-breaking, we might have better success at structuring effective criminal justice policy. We have people who choose prison deals over probation deals because they can do their time without as much hassle and strings attached and people dogging them all the time. We have people who repeat and repeat and repeat prison despite its being how we’re “tough on crime.” We have people who echo “do the crime, do the time” while they’re sitting in jail cells. Those of us on this side of the bars don’t tend to have a clue what motivates and impacts the people on the other side, yet we pass laws regularly with supreme confidence that this will stop the harms done. If prison and the threat of it were “tough on crime,” there’d be no need for “three strikes” because no one would ever get there. It’s time to start talking to the folks behind the bars more than just to get a bumper sticker quote.

[And here’s another good example, caught by Doug Berman at Sentencing Law and Policy, of the point we made a while back regarding how law-abiders think the death penalty is the worst that we can do to an offender, when the offenders themselves frequently know better:
"I know I'm not innocent," said Knight, who believes his appeals have been exhausted. "They think they're killing me. They think they're punishing me. They've already punished me. I've already had 16 years of punishment. They're releasing me. They're letting me go. That's helping me out. That's the way I look at it."
It’s no wonder our laws have proven so ineffective stopping crime when we write them for ourselves and not for the people we’re trying to stop.]

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