Saturday, June 13, 2009

It's The End Of The World As We Know It

Last weekend, while we had company, I decided to back myself into my little corner and read a book. They didn't need me for anything and it was too hot to go outside so I took the time out to read.

I don't get that opportunity very often. Not to sit and read an entire book, anyway. And it was a good one. "Starship Troopers" by Robert Heinlein. My favorite author. And the book is ten times better than the movie was.

The book takes place sometime in the distant future when we have discovered space travel between stars and are using it regularly. This leads us to discover that there is at least one race out there who disputes our "right" to colonize the whole universe and this leads to interstellar war.

And what does this have to do with working in a prison, you ask? I'm getting to that.

At one point out hero Johnny Rico remembers a class he took in high school with a particularly tough teacher. An irascible bastard who forced his students to think instead of just absorbing data like little sponges. Mr. Dubois, the teacher, was discussing the end of our present way of government and one of the symptoms leading up to its downfall. He discussed the way we treated our criminals. I'll edit it just a little:

"Back to these young criminals- They were probably not spanked as babies; they certainly weren't flogged for their crimes. The usual sequence was: for the first offense, a warning- a scolding, often without trial. After several offenses a sentence of confinement but with sentence suspended and the youngster placed on probation. A boy might be arrested many times and convicted several times before he was punished- and then it would be merely confinement, with others like him from whom he learned still more criminal habits. If he kept out of major trouble while confined, he could usually evade most of even that mild punishment, be given probation- 'paroled' in the jargon of the times.
This incredible sequence could go on for years, while his crimes increased in frequency and viciousness, with no punishment whatsoever save rare dull-but-comfortable confinements. Then suddenly, usually by law on his eighteenth birthday, this so-called 'juvenile delinquent' becomes an adult criminal- and sometimes wound up in only weeks or months in a death cell awaiting execution for murder."

You know, when you look at it in that perspective, it makes our whole criminal justice system look completely insane. We certainly aren't "correcting" any behavior. All we are doing is keeping them off the streets so the citizens aren't bothered by them until they get out again. Every day there are more and more people going to prison and the recidivism rate is on the order of 70%.

In any other line of work, if you were wrong 70% of the time, you would be fired. They would say "Sorry Jim, but this is obviously not the right job for you. Maybe you should try McDonalds or something. Maybe you can become a meteorologist."

Shouldn't this be telling us something?

Robert Heinlein should have run for president. He wouldn't have wanted the job but I think he would have changed this country for the better.

Going to prison should be a punishment.... something to be feared and avoided. Not just a dull vacation.

I'll climb down off the soapbox now....


  1. I have healthy fear of prison, which is why I behave myself and certain people deserving of the dirt nap are still amongst us.

  2. Joe- To paraphrase someone, I think it might be from The Pirates of Penzance... "I've got a little list, they won't be missed.." If we ever get a Penalty Free Day I'm going to be awfully busy.