Former Congressman Jesse Jackson Jr. pled guilty to misusing campaign funds for personal gain. Among the items he purchased were a $43,000 Rolex, Michael Jackson's fedora and toilet paper from Costco. In total, he took $750,000 from his campaign. He now awaits sentencing and could face over 4 years in prison. It's too much.
The purpose of prison seems clear. It is to punish someone for engaging in a criminal action and it is supposed to convince them not to do it again. It is an expensive proposition for taxpayers, and if it is not a successful deterrent, it can become a perpetual motion machine devouring public money while its population repeats their actions over and over again, to everyone's detriment.
The public perspective is that the more years you give someone in prison, the more effective the deterrent. If you give life, of course there is no worry about recidivism, but anything less leaves room for repeat offenses. In reality, the number of years has little to do with predicting how someone will act upon release. A strong family structure, education, personal growth and reflection are some of the ingredients which result in someone not re-offending. Certainly public embarrassment, humiliation, loss of career and social standing also factor into a desire to never offend in the future.
You, as a taxpayer, are being played. Billions and billions of tax dollars are wasted every year on a system for hundreds of thousands of offenders. You are told it's for your protection...it's necessary for public order...it's important to be tough on crime and the "system" works. It's not true, nor is it smart.
Jesse Jackson Jr. could be sentenced to a year of less. He could be put on home detention wearing an ankle bracelet. Either decision would accomplish its intended purpose of punishing him and encouraging him never to do it again. Jackson has been publically humiliated and embarrassed. He now carries the scarlet "F" for felon. His political career is over. His home and possessions are in economic jeopardy. His actions have been broadcast all over the world. By being convicted of a felony, he is precluded from employment in a large swath of occupations. Even were he not excluded by law, he would find it difficult to find someone who would hire him. He has lost, or will soon have taken from him, everything including the support of many friends and acquaintances. If he is self-reflective at all, he understands all the collateral damage he has caused. He has embarrassed and humiliated his dad, Jesse Jackson Sr., and his mother and the rest of his family. His actions reflect on them. His children have to endure the public censures and ostracization of their dad and figure out how to deal with what he did. Close friends and family, who did nothing wrong, are trashed, because of association with him and by the same public wave of derision which engulfs him.
It may be difficult to believe, but the collateral damage...facing the approbation, criticism and condemnation of people you love...being thrown under the bus by people you thought were friends...explaining your actions over and over again and engaging in an infinite loop of apologies...knowing people you care for are suffering because of your stupidity and poor judgment...is far more powerful and oppressive than spending time in prison. All of the lessons you want Jesse Jackson Jr. to learn...all of the punishment you want him to endure...all of the motivation not to do it ever again happen the first few weeks in a country jail waiting to find out the disposition of your case.
This is not a Pollyanna or Officer Krupke approach to crime and punishment. There are people who give up their right to be in society by virtue of their actions. The violent, sociopathic, predatory and amoral members of our society, who commit crimes, have to be isolated and we protected. However, this is a small universe and it's worth noting that nowhere else in the developed world, other than China and Russia, is crime and punishment structured like it is here. In the Netherlands, and across Europe, 3 years is a serious sentence for most crimes. Virginia Senator Jim Webb has publically stated the way our criminal/justice system is designed says Americans are either the most evil population on earth or there is something wrong with how we approach the subject. (we lock up more of our own than any other nation on earth)
It is further worth noting, states does not impose anywhere near the length of sentences common in the federal system. However, even with that caveat, prisons in California require more funding than the entire University of California system. Is it possible historians in the future will point at this time as the beginning of our decline by observing we were willing to spend more money for prisons than for educating our future?
It's time for a new paradigm. Paradigm shifts do not come about easily, but they are necessary to keep a people from being ossified and stagnant. We have already seen the start with laws passed in California where first time drug offenders don't go to prison. They get another shot. They are offered rehabilitation and programs to get straight. There actions are treated as a health issue rather than something for the criminal/justice system. They have saved money and reduced crime.
The way it is today, a person coming out of prison faces a world of few possibilities of employment, a stressed or collapsed family and society condemnation. Paying ones debt to society is as real as Harry Potter and Hogwarts. Released prisoners are taught, by prison officials, how to get food stamps, apply for welfare and Social Security benefits, find places to get meals and how to get into government housing. All of this implies you can't make it on your own once you have been in prison and you will become a permanent member of the welfare state. (also costing you the taxpayer a ton more money) While Jesse Jackson Jr. is in prison, so is his family. Five million Americans, perhaps more, are directly connected to a family member in prison. This is crazy.
If you think this a brief for personal relief, relax. Any changes or reforms which are proposed would kick in long after I go home. All the damages and negative effects of this experience have already hit. However, I have an insight most people, thank God, do not possess. A system which uses shorter sentences, gives counseling and therapy and real-time, real-world job skills, allows someone to stay in their community with their family, requires counseling and therapy to reflect and grow so as not to make stupid choices again, and understands the entire family is going time, not just the individual...a society which spends more on its universities than on prisons...a society that realizes politicians who revel in being "tough on crime", are shills for a criminal/justice industry which is sucking up billions of dollars and failing at its most basic purpose...a society that understands most of the punishment has occurred for someone like Jesse Jackson Jr. before he sets foot in a prison, ends up with both punishment and deterrent without mortgaging the future.