Major reform is needed in the criminal justice system in the United States

by Don Koenig - 2006

The United States has the highest incarceration rate in the world. At the time of the writing of this article there were 2.2 million people incarcerated in federal, state, or local jails in the United States. The percentage of people imprisoned in the Unites States is 4 to 8 times higher than Canada or any nation in Europe, it is also 4 times that of Mexico, 6 times that of China, and 14 times that of Japan. Incarceration in the United States has increased over four hundred percent since 1980. The present incarceration rate in the United States is alarming. The alarm should be ringing loud and clear to all US citizens that something is drastically wrong, and reforms in the criminal justice system are needed.

The incarceration of 2.2 million people is also a huge drain on the taxpayers.The direct and indirect cost of each prisoner to the nation is over $50,000 per person. This figure includes direct cost of imprisonment, health care, probation costs, some law enforcement costs, court costs, lost productivity of the prisoners and welfare support for some of their families. Therefore, the cost to the nation is over one hundred billion dollars per year. If we bring down incarceration rates to near the rates found in most other nations, we could save over 80 billion dollars each year. If we do that and also make the prisoners that remain incarcerated more productive we can save over 100 billion dollars a year.


The first issue I will address is why our incarceration rates are so high. The second issue is how we get control of criminals without putting them all in walled prisons and how we can make all serving time become productive members of our society. The last issue deals with physical discipline.


Why the USA has high incarceration rates


The figures I will give are broad generalizations. They are not meant to reflect the exact percentage of those incarcerated in any Federal, State or Local prisons and jails. There is a large difference in the figures between all these “correctional” systems. About one half of those incarcerated in the United States were convicted of low-level drug related crimes or property crimes related to their drug habit. (Over two thirds of all thefts and robberies in the United States are a result of people stealing to support their drug habits). If we stop the addicts who steal to support their habit, we would eliminate most property crimes in the United States. Therefore, it should be evident that most prisoners in the United States are the product of a sub culture of drug users and drug traffickers.


The majority of those imprisoned are inner city minorities. The inner cities themselves are out of control and are largely run by gangs. There are many social issues driving this and that is a separate issue in itself. Therefore, until we deal with the inner city problems, our crime levels will remain higher than in most other countries. Nevertheless, in time, this problem can be fixed and in the short term we still can do much to bring down the incarceration rate.


A large percentage of all people incarcerated are imprisoned for non-violent offenses. Many of these crimes can be dealt with in ways other than imprisonment. (see below)


About a third of all prisoners are in the category of violent crimes but there are some in this category that are not a future threat to society. Some of these people could also be disciplined in ways other than incarnation. (One of the erroneous ideas in our society is that the only correction or punishment for a crime is imprisonment.)


Those imprisoned in the United States for any length of time will come out of the system worse then when they went in. Many find they have to join ethnic gangs in prison for their own security. Prison is the place where many learn additional illegal activities and where new criminal networks are developed. Those that spend time in prison and are subsequently released to society are better equipped to commit more crimes, and statistics prove that the vast majority will commit more crimes and return to prison. Thus, the present “corrections” system does not correct but mainly fosters future criminal activity. The present incarceration system in the US is a breeding ground for wrong thinking and more crime.


How we can get control of criminals without putting all of them in jails


By the rising number of those incarcerated in the United States it should be obvious that the present imprisonment system is not working to deter crime. It is not a correctional system, in spite of the name, and it does not foster lower crime rates. As an alternative, I will offer some solutions. These examples of dealing with major categories of crime are given to present new ideas as how to deal with crime. They are not meant to be the only solutions to criminal control nor do my examples cover all crime categories in the United States.


I believe at least ¾ of those now given jail terms can be dealt with in other ways. Most of those who are to be incarcerated should be put in productive labor camps (these camps will be described in a section below).


Drug crimes
– Over one-half of the population imprisoned committed low-level drug crimes and/or they committed property crimes to support their drug habit. Drug users are about 15 times more likely to commit a property crime and 10 times more likely to commit violent crimes then non-users. Some of this may be due to the criminal nature of the individual but much of this propensity for crime simply is to obtain money to support their drug habit. Warehousing most of these people in jails gets them off the street for a period but it does not correct them, in fact, it actually helps them to connect to other drug dealers and to learn the ways of career criminals.


The first issue that should be dealt with when addressing drug crimes is the hypocrisy of our drug laws and the inconsistency of enforcement. For example, in some states, possession of marijuana is equal to a traffic ticket and in other states it is a felony that can land one in jail for longer terms than murders. There really should be no imprisonment for use or possession of small amounts of natural marijuana (skunk marijuana should be outlawed it is dangerous). One could argue that this weed is safer than alcohol intoxication and tobacco use, which are regulated but legal. (More than one third of those arrested in the process of a crime are intoxicated with alcohol. Tobacco use kills millions and its long-term effects cost the nation trillions of dollars). If everyone who ever used marijuana in their lives served time in jail, more than one-half of the country would have been jailed, including the last two presidents of the United States and most of Congress.


There is more danger to our society by the continual erosion of our constitutional freedoms by those who enforce marijuana laws than there is danger to our society by those who smoke this common weed. What sense does it make to burden our criminal justice system with these “crimes” that are not even seen as crimes by most people?


Because the law makes this common plant illegal, there is a lot of money to be made growing and trafficking marijuana. The money fosters illegal gang activity and violence over turf much the same way that prohibition of alcohol in the United States helped establish organized crime syndicates in the early 20th century. Making this common weed illegal has also encouraged drug pushers to develop hybrids (skunk) with much more powerful ingredients. Marijuana hybrids called skunk truly do have dangerous effects on users. The second hypocrisy is that we make one substance illegal but make other similar substances legal when they are used in religious ceremonies. The war against marijuana has been going on for over fifty years and one thing we should have learned is that people are going to get marijuana if they want it anyway. It is still one of the top cash crops grown in the United States. No laws are going to stop what a large minority of the citizens want, and enforcement will only bring about a law enforcement system that more and more resembles a police state. Outlawing the use or possession of marijuana makes about as much sense as to trying to outlaw alcohol, glue, paint, gas and all other common products that can alter the mind when abused.


Frankly, I think there are some self-righteous control freaks in our society who push certain laws that get many people arrested who have really caused no harm to our society. These control freaks want to lord over the lives of others and force their own prejudices on society. Often, the rules they wish to force on others have no scientific or religious support and can not be supported by anything other than their own subjective reasoning. They often will even use deception information and bullying to get these prejudices enforced on others.
The control freaks of humanity are an ever present danger to civil and religious liberties; all this is fully documented in the history of our nation and the world.


I think many that are addicted to harder drugs need to be treated and to be given a path to more productive lives rather then be sent to prisons. Nevertheless, I am not soft on those who go through drug treatment programs and continue to go back to using drugs (as you shall see).


Incarceration of these people may get most of them off their drugs while they are imprisoned but when they are released we know without question, that most will go back to using drugs. Further, since drug users cannot find jobs that pay enough to support their addiction they will commit additional crimes to get the money.
If we could successfully treat or deal with addicts, we would eliminate the vast majority of crime in the United States. That alone would bring down incarceration rates to near that of other civilized countries. The best way to get people off of very dangerous mind-altering chemicals is debatable but it must be done or some segregation action must be taken if we are to have a civilized law abiding society. It is certain that imprisonment of drug addicts does not achieve that goal. Faith based programs do help a significant percentage of addicts but even in these programs the majority will go back to using.


Therefore, most convicted users should be offered drug treatment programs instead of imprisonment. However, we should not have unrealistic expectations about addicts getting off of their drug dependency.
When drug addicts and minor dealers are released into society we must do all we can to insure that they do not commit more crimes. For several years they need to have their urine or blood monitored and their location should be electronically tracked using GPS hardware and software. They should also be required to attend support groups and to be accountable.


Those who go through two drug rehabilitation programs and start using again or those who will not abide by the rules of the rehabilitation program should be judged to be incurable addicts and they must be permanently removed from our society. I do not suggest that we warehouse addicts in prisons for life. My solution would be to create patrolled fenced land reservations for addicts that are governed by those who dwell within the reservations. The reservations would be self-sustaining and those on it would produce products to sell to the outside so they could buy or trade for legal items they needed. Those who live in the reservation would live by the laws of the constitution of the United States and the laws of the reservation. There would be no prison guards from the outside within the reservation because the reservation would have its own internal criminal justice system. Simply put, incurable addicts would be removed from our society and they would live out their lives in their own colony. Family and friends from the outside would be free to visit or join the colony if the colony permitted but no one sentenced to the colony would be allowed to leave without police escort.


Those addicts on the reservation that committed crimes such as theft would be required to make restitution to the victims of their crimes using criteria similar to that stated in the following paragraphs.


Big time drug traffickers in any analysis are premeditated murderers. They should be publicly hung after being convicted.


Theft and all property crimes – All thefts or property crimes without the use of a weapon or threat of using force
– On the first offense they would pay back 5 times the value of the item or items they stole. Eighty percent would go to the person they stole from and 20 percent to pay for the cost of law enforcement. Thieves that owed so much that they could not make restitution in less then 5 years would be sentenced to a productive labor camp for 5 to 10 years and then released (see productive labor camp details below). On the second offense for stealing, it would be likewise, except they could only pay back the debt by working in a labor camp. Upon a third or subsequent conviction, they would receive 10 years in a labor camp.


Violent crime in general


Robbery (Theft with the use of weapon or the threat of using force)
– If no injury occurred they would pay back 10 times the amount they stole. The percentages and other details remain as in the paragraph on theft above. On a second offense, they would receive 5 to 10 years in a labor camp. Upon a third or subsequent conviction, they would get 20 years in a labor camp.


Robbery with injury not resulting in death – a minimum of ten years would be served in a labor camp. The debt would be paid back as above and punitive damages would be added and given to the victim. On a second robbery convection they would get 20 years, on a third, they would get life.


Forcible Rape - Life in a maximum security prison, monetary restitution to the victims for the rest of their lives.


Sex offenses – Punishment should be relative to the crime but those adults who are determined to be a continual danger to the innocent must be placed in maximum security prisons for life and should make financial restitution to their known victims for life.


Assaults – correction would be according to the degree of the crime. If the person is deemed to be a grave threat to society they would be sentenced to maximum security prisons, otherwise they would receive an appropriate period in a labor camp. In either case, those convicted would make restitution to their victims. Simple assaults such as brawls could be dealt with by physical discipline and/or stiff fines to pay for the treatment of injuries and the pain and suffering of the abused.


Manslaughter – An appropriate sentence in a labor camp or maximum security prison as determined by a jury, financial restitution to the immediate family.


Second degree Murder – In addition to the thefts rules above if applicable, the convicted would spend 10 years to life in a maximum security prison. The sentence (not the guilt) would be determined by a majority of a jury of eleven with four of the jurors being the closest adult relatives of the victim. If relatives could not be found, friends and acquaintances could volunteer. If none could be found the four juror positions would be filled by court appointed distinguished members of the community where the murder was committed.


First degree Murder – Incarceration in a maximum security prison until appeals run out, then death by public hanging.


Other felony crimes – Those who are a grave danger to society would be sent to maximum security prisons, those who are not dangerous would spend time in a labor camp and make restitution to the victim if applicable. A jury would determine the sentence.


Misdemeanors – Fines, public service and in some cases physical discipline.


Productive Labor Camps


All convicted criminals sentenced to a same sex labor camp would do jobs needed to benefit society according to their skills and aptitudes. All would be paid one-half of the national minimum wage and they would work a 60-hour week with one day off. The labor camp skills and manpower would be contracted by public and private employers who would bid on the camps labor services. All profits made by the camps above the administrative and labor expenses could be used as incentive awards or toward improving the living conditions in the camps.


The camps would be contracted to do many different jobs such as public work projects, or even basic agriculture fieldwork that is now largely done by millions of
illegal migrant workers. The prisoners would live in mobile camps in conditions like those found in mobile army camps. They would dwell in tents or trailers depending on the climate. All that are sentenced to the camps would have their movements electronically monitored by GPS and all attempts at escape could either add more time to their sentence or land them in a maximum security prison. If the prisoners have dependents, one third of their pay would go to help support them. All who have to pay restitution would have another one third of their pay taken out for that. All remaining pay would go to the account of the prisoner but one-half of that would be withheld until released. Those workers who would not do what they were told could receive physical discipline, pay withheld, lose incentive rewards, be busted in rank (see below), or additional time might be added to their sentence for lost productivity.


Those serving time will come under a military form of ranks and privileges


In labor camps and in prisons the full sentence will be served, there would be no parole or time taken off for good behavior. The positive incentives will come through a ranking system similar to the ranking system found in the non-commissioned military. With a rank increase will come leadership responsibilities over others and greater privileges. One major discipline used on those serving time would be to bust the person to a lower rank.


The military has many methods of discipline that are very effective these methods need to be employed among the incarcerated.


Maximum Security Prisons


Most incarcerated would be in labor camps. However, there still must be maximum security prisons for those who are truly dangerous. The details of work and restitution would be similar to those in the labor camps. The products the prisoners produced within the prisons would be sold to help pay for the cost of their incarceration. No gang activity would be permitted. Religious activities would be permitted.


Physical Discipline


For many minor crimes, physical discipline is an effective correctional method especially among the young. When I was young I was taught by Catholic brothers. They fully understood that a rod across the bottom of an unruly youngster would correct most discipline problems and it certainly did. Wise parents also know that physical discipline is an effective tool to keep a child on the correct path. The Bible gives us examples to live by: 

Pr 22:15  Foolishness is bound in the heart of a child; but the rod of correction shall drive it far from him.

Pr 23:13  Withhold not correction from the child: for if thou beatest him with the rod, he shall not die.

Pr 23:14  Thou shalt beat him with the rod, and shalt deliver his soul from hell.

Pr 29:15  The rod and reproof give wisdom: but a child left to himself bringeth his mother to shame.

Perhaps we should start paying more attention to what God said about how to correct youth rather than buying into the philosophy of the world which is contrary to the truths revealed to us by God. The rebellion, disrespect and criminal activity displayed in our permissive society proves that much of what the psychologists have suggested for discipline does not work. The rebellion we see in society today was rare just 50 years ago. When psychiatrists, physiologists and government started telling parents and teachers not to physically discipline their children our society experienced a plague of rebellion against all those in authority. These psychologists, psychiatrists and mental health workers are now telling us to correct many of the discipline problems of children with chemicals designed to alter their mind. The drugged children of our generation are now becoming adults and we are seeing and we will continue to see the negative results of these humanistic solutions to discipline.


From my experience of living among those who do physically discipline their children, I know that physical punishment is rarely necessary. Just the knowledge that physical punishment will come is usually enough for most children. When you take this tool away from responsible adults, you allow rebellion to flourish, as it does today. Children who are brought up right usually do not become criminals. Again we see this truth in the Bible.

Pr 22:6 Train up a child in the way he should go: and when he is old, he will not depart from it.

 

Adults who commit minor violent crimes might receive physical discipline as their punishment. The method could vary, for example if someone was injured by someone else they should not expect to receive no harm to themselves. One method would be to let the victim inflict similar injury on the person who injured them or their loved one. Under biblical law, it says “an eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth”. No teaching in scripture or of Jesus ever done away with the civil law (The Ten Commandments). The Bible and Jesus condemned lawbreaking. In fact, the scriptures tell us that lawlessness is the reason why God's judgment will come on the earth in the last days.


I do not know why we now think that putting people behind bars is somehow more humane to them than some limited form of physical punishment. Those incarcerated usually just become more corrupted behind bars and are more likely to repeat their actions with worse results for themselves and for their future victims. Immediate physical punishment gets the message across to them and to others that there will be real punishment for wrong actions. In addition, the punishment will be done at almost no cost to the taxpayers.


Some erroneously think that all physical discipline is cruel and we are to show “mercy” to lawbreakers by warehousing them. We really are being more cruel to these lawbreakers when we put them in a prison system full of gangsters and bullies who will physically abuse, oppress, and corrupt them for months and years and make them worse criminals then they ever were.  In addition, what kind of love are we displaying by this “mercy” of not using physical punishment when we are aware this “mercy” of warehousing lawbreakers will usually bring future harm to innocent people when they are released? In our self-righteous quest for humanistic “mercy” to lawbreakers, we can be such hypocrites!

 

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