There are crimes and there are criminals who deserve to be incarcerated for lengthy sentences or for life. Those crimes and criminals, however, are a distinct minority of the current prison population. The “get tough on crime” option should be applied only to those crimes and criminals who present a clear and present danger to the rest of us. We should consider shorter sentences or probation for everyone else.
The longer the sentence, the more difficult we make it for former prisoners to adjust to changed circumstances in society. Those of us not living in a prison are able to adjust to changes in society as they occur. Someone who has served three, five or more years in prison must adjust to those changes all at once as he/she struggles to find employment and learn to cope with the new demands of myriad small and large changes.
Technology is changing rapidly today and will continue to change rapidly tomorrow. Someone absent from society for years and returning now might be required to learn to pump his/her own gas, use self check-out at stores, acquire a cell phone, use an ATM for the first time and complete some transactions using computers and the internet because they are no longer available anywhere else. That is true now here in Utah in dealing with some state agencies and is probably coming to your state soon as a cost cutting measure.
If we truly want to return people to society after a prison sentence and not expect them inevitably to return, we really should consider making penalties certain and short. Making penalties certain is a proven deterrent, more so than a less certain harsh penalty. The shorter the sentence, the easier we make it for someone to return to a society that has not changed beyond recognition or beyond the returnee’s ability to fit in.
Before my recent retirement, I spent 20+ years in a healthcare setting taking x-rays for most of those years. I started my career using film, and then switched to digital systems. I was required to learn three different digital systems over the years. Taking an x-ray was the same in all cases, but processing the images differed in all four cases. The digital technologies differed in small, significant ways that required specialized knowledge that could only be acquired by months of experience. Job skills become stale without practice. In today’s economy, some employers are refusing to hire someone who is unemployed; they want someone with current job skills since job requirements are changing rapidly for some. If we imprison criminals for long sentences because we are “tough on crime”, we guarantee that any job skills that they possess will decay.
- When life is too long: Debate over older prisoners (seattletimes.nwsource.com)
- “Balanced Justice: Cost-Benefit Analysis and Criminal Justice Policy” (sentencing.typepad.com)
- Experts tell feds omnibus bill will make crime worse (ctv.ca)
- Kitzhaber: State can save without strict prison laws (bendbulletin.com)