Criminal justice reform. Is this proposal common sense or does it make no sense?

I’ve been pondering ways that the criminal justice system can be reformed and have thought up these ideas.

  1. Legalize or decriminalize victimless offenses. Prostitution, using and selling drugs, gambling, etc. If we did this there would be a lot fewer cases in the court system, fewer prisoners, and the money saved from all that could instead be used for things like drug treatment programs. It would also help to eliminate (I think) things like police brutality and the killings of unarmed black people who might be suspected of having committed this type of crime

  2. Increase the penalty for violent crimes. One thing that seems that be a recurrent theme when I read about someone suspected of something like armed robbery is that the suspect has typically been in jail or prison multiple times, and not just for the victimless crimes I mentioned above. Criminals that have committed offenses like armed robbery, attempted or actual murder, or even things like mugging someone should serve long sentences. This should apply even for first offenses, unless there are some significant mitigating circumstances like the offender being an abused spouse that attacked their abuser or something of that sort.

What do you all think of these proposals? Would these changes lead to a breakdown in society, or make for a better society?

I have two comments:

  1. Many victimless crimes could be safely bounced to the level of misdemeanors or relegated to civil suits, but I’d want to take this on a case-by-case basis. Pollution/littering/arson on public lands could be characterized as a victimless if you tried hard enough and I wouldn’t want to handwave those.

  2. Cracking down harder on violent crime I’m not as confident about - I’m not sure it would help, or what the goals of it are. It’s my understanding that past efforts to crack down hard on crime have backfired spectacularly, for example by forcing adolescent criminals onto lifelong criminal paths. I’d be willing to hear arguments though.

  1. The case was made specifically in Ain’t Nobody’s Business if You Do: The Absurdity of Consensual Crimes in a Free Society. The author preferred the term “consensual crimes” – which means that all the adults involved agreed to take part in something that doesn’t affect anyone else. “Victimless” leads to the objection that “There really are victims.” McWilliams makes a strong case, though some of his solutions (like how to prevent drunken driving without banning it with what’s essentially a game of Simon) are still impracticable.

IMHO there’s a huge difference between an adolescent who has a record for getting caught with a joint vs. an adolescent who held up the corner mart with a gun and shot the clerk. The latter is already far down the lifelong criminal path, and IMHO the best way to deal with them is to separate them from society.

Yeah, another term that often gets used for this area is “quality of life” crimes - no one wants druggies or hookers standing on their nearest street corner. I think you’d really need to look at it on a case-by-case basis, with a common dividing line being whether it’s in public or behind closed doors or not. I don’t care if two adults have consensual sex for money, as long as they arrange everything secretly and I don’t have to see hookers walking around soliciting folks on the streets. Likewise, I don’t really care if someone shoots up heroin in the privacy of their home, but I don’t want to see drug addicts sitting around with their needles and pipes littering the sidewalk. So many drug cases are just simple possessions that occur when the police see someone walking down the street, find a way to search them, and then it turns out that person has a pipe or small baggie of drugs on them. I don’t think that, by itself, is worth criminalizing.

As for the second one, cracking down harder, hasn’t been shown to really help anything (with the exception of “if the guy is in, he can’t commit crimes on the outside.”) Part of the problem is that jail/prison really doesn’t do a good job of actually reforming anyone. But there’s so many factors involved in any one case it’s difficult to make far-reaching proclamations about the correct way to really reform someone, or if it’s even possible.

From listening to cops, it’s not so much that the drug user/seller is arrested for only doing/possessing/selling drugs; it’s that the drug case, being strict liability, is by far the easiest to prosecute of their other nefarious behavior. (See also, ‘felon in possession of a deadly weapon’ laws, which when vigorously prosecuted are fantastic for thinning the herd of violent criminals, a la Project Exile.) IOW, your typical “non-violent” drug offender serving a lengthy felony stint is guilty of far more malum in se crimes than just the dope, it’s just the dope is easier to prove, and locks them away just as easily. Yes, there are plenty of exceptions. Anyway, that offends my personal sense of justice, but then we don’t really have a justice system, so much as a legal system.

About the violent, I don’t think increased penalties are so much about reforming the criminal as the desired aim of punishment, as it is incapacitation. A lot of these guys won’t behave until they get too old to misbehave, and we won’t kill them, and there isn’t an Australia to ship their asses to, so what do you do with the incorrigibly violent? Locking them up is as good a solution as any. Better than letting them run around on the outside, anyway.

A problem with lowering the penalties for minor malum in se laws, such as petty theft, is that it removes many of the disincentives from committing such crimes. See, California, post passage of Proposition 47. Magnusblitz’s point is another good one, about no one wanting to see junkies and hookers plying their trade next to your house.

But I philosophically like the idea of fewer laws, but the ones you have being vigorously prosecuted and offenders punished.

The problem with the proposal is that it would result in more prisoners during a time when many politicians are trying to reduce prison populations.

I would hate to think there were no penalties for shoplifting, vandalism, or disturbing the peace. Those crimes greatly affect the quality of life.

Did I miss something? I don’t recall anyone ever proposing anything apart from [del]keeping the prison owners well-paid[/del] being ‘tough on crime’. Seriously, I have trouble thinking of any government thing aimed at keeping people OUT of jail, or even of releasing prisoners who have later been proven innocent.

I don’t think anyone is proposing “no penalty” for that sort of thing, just that jail time and public criminal record is a bit heavy.

  1. Eliminate victimless crimes. Great idea. Unfortunately we are a victim-centric society. Anything bad that happens to you makes you a victim. Even if something good happens to you but not to your neighbor then he considers himself a victim. Little Johnny smokes some weed and his parents are victims. Prostitutes are victimizing the spouses of their customers. The list goes on and on of perceived victimhood at the individual level, and then there are the endless arguments of how society is victimized even if simply in the knowledge that something is going on that they disapprove of. Some crimes are disappearing like recreational use of marijuana, but otherwise we won’t see much change in this regard.

  2. Sure, lock 'em up and throw away the key. Except how do you determine who deserves that treatment? We already do that with the most violent criminals. But there is a ton of gray area in there. What do you do with attempted murder? It’s already problematic in the law, we know someone intended to commit murder, but they didn’t. Do we lock up someone for life who has never harmed anyone? What do we do with non-violent criminals who continue to prey upon society? How much can they steal from you before you want them behind bars? Take the circumstances of two hotheads who get in a fist fight, one of them getting the worst of it fears for his safety grabs a blunt object and strikes the other one on his head injuring him severely, maybe even killing him. Should he be locked up for life? Is he likely to commit another crime like this again? Was it even a crime or was it self-defense. And then there’s the burglar who carries a gun. He’s a burglar, that he is robbing unoccupied dwellings, so he’s committed no violent act. But is he a danger to society still because if caught in the act he might have shot someone?
    The OP contains simplistic proposals for far more complex problems. Certainly I agree victimless crimes like drug use and prostitution should be eliminated, but that is just a slight improvement over the current situation. The rest of it requires a lot more changes in society and the justice system at fundamental levels.

I don’t see using drugs as a victimless crime. Frankly I think that’s insulting to anyone who has had a parent who has used drugs or to anyone who has a lost a loved one in a accident resulting from DUI.

I actually agree with the sentiment that “people should be allow to do whatever they want as long as it doesn’t harm someone else”. I don’t think drug use meets that criteria because it impairs a person’s ability to respect other people’s rights and space. Thousand of people die each year from impaired drivers causing accidents; if we legalize drugs that number is bound to go up.

Impaired judgment doesn’t absolve anyone of culpability. It is also is nothing like a guaranty any sort of offense is forthcoming. Responsible people do things responsibly, and irresponsible people tend to do things irresponsibly. Why would you punish a responsible person for something an irresponsible person does?

I never implied that impaired judgment should absolve someone from held culpable from their actions. My point was that if a significant minority who engage in an activity (i.e. drug use) can’t engage in it responsibly and starting negatively affecting others then government has the right to regulate or even outright ban that activity. This already happens all the time; its why we have traffic laws dictating how fast we go on public roadways or how alcohol use is restricted while driving. From a pure moral standpoint, I wouldn’t have a problem with banning alcohol because the collateral damage on society from excessive alcohol consumption far outweighs an individual’s right to use it responsibly as you suggested. At some point, people just have to accept that some curtailing of individual rights is necessary for a robust society to function. No rights are absolute. Free speech doesn’t mean you can yell “fire” in a crowded theater or saying defaming things about someone without consequences. Freedom of religion doesn’t mean you can engage in human sacrifice.
So no I don’t have a problem with the government banning the use of recreational drugs

You didn’t. I tossed it in there as an assertion that an individual is responsible for his actions regardless of the state he’s put himself in.

You did say, however: “Frankly I think that’s insulting to anyone who has had a parent who has used drugs or to anyone who has a lost a loved one in a accident resulting from DUI.” As someone who manages his chemical use responsibly and is in fact a productive member of society, I think that it’s insulting to be painted with the same brush as irresponsible narcissists who manage their lives with less regard for the safety of others.

The reason I resist punishing the many for the sins of the few is that such policies are unevenly practiced. For instance, various religious sects are openly antiscience, frequently to the point of insisting their particular mythology is taught in lieu of, or at even footing with, fact based education. This places the children so educated at a massive intellectual disadvantage as they grow into adults with a confused or terribly impaired understanding of logic, and its application to the real world. Religions bring comfort and purpose to a great many people, but given this intentional mental crippling perpetrated by a vocal minority, should we not just ban all religion? And as we do with drug users, incarcerate the practitioners when they are caught?

How about people who produce and consume obesity-inducing fast food, soft drinks, and snacks? Obesity and diabetes, after all, being a national health hazard responsible for destroying many more families than drunk drivers, and creating massive quality of life problems for those yet to die from the disorder. Where do we draw the line?

To answer your last question first, I’m not sure exactly where we draw the line.

As I said before if a significant minority who engage in an activity (i.e. drug use) can’t engage in it responsibly and starting negatively affecting others then government has the right to regulate or even outright ban that activity. I really don’t care whether or not people can engage in drug use responsibly. The government’s first duty to is ensure the well being of society as whole not ensure the right for individual to do whatever one pleases. If this means the outright ban of recreation drugs than so be it. If these laws are unevenly practiced, then the solution is to take steps to ensure they are evenly enforced not ban them outright.

Frankly insisting one has right to use recreational drugs when one realizes what the collateral damage they have done society has been to me seems like an act of selfishness. If I had curtail my hobbies because a significant minority engaged in them were starting to have a damaging effect on society, would I be happy? No, of course not. But I would grudgingly accept it as necessary for the long term survival of the society I live in.

So you’d like to see alcohol banned, right? Everything you have said, if taken seriously, would imply that we should ban alcohol.

From a pure moral standpoint, no I would not a have problem with banning alcohol. As a practical matter, I’m not sure it would work. My argument is mostly about me being opposed to the decriminalization and legalization of all recreational drugs.

I do think we need to increase funding for drug treatment programs instead of simply jailing and warehousing repeat drug offenders. Frankly I think the United States’ entire law enforcement/correction system needs to be completely overhauled. But that’s probably a rant for another day.

Well, at least we have some common ground on that point. :slight_smile:

One of the main issues I have with how the current law enforcement system is run is how it has become a mechanism for generating revenue. Especially how agencies abuse asset forfeiture laws to seize cash and property for their own use. I am also opposed to ticket quota laws. Police should not be motivated to look for excuses to ticket and fine people because it just generates distrust and hostility towards law enforcement. Police should not be revenue agents.

I also have serious reservation about prisons being run by private for profit companies because they don’t seem to have good oversight into how they are being run.

As a practical matter, it was tried once - Prohibition - it was an utterly abysmal failure in every way except maybe one or two. One would be significant curtailing of the amount of alcohol abuse in teenagers and even children. Two would be something obliquely related. But nevertheless, history agrees that, in the main, Prohibition was a failure.

Interestingly enough, there are parallels between the failure of Prohibition and the failure of the War on Drugs. For example, Prohibition merely drove the market for alcohol supply to guys like Capone. The Drug War drives the market for drug supply to guys like El Chapo.

Which is why I absolutely support ending this ferkakte War On Drugs, tomorrow if not sooner. This and several million other reasons.