Monday, June 19, 2017

And This Guy Works For A Federal Judge

Peter N. Salib, a judicial clerk to Judge Frank Easterbrook of the US Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit,  has written "Why Prison? An Economic Critique."

In an interview with Vox's German Lopez, Salib argues

There’s a fair amount of research that there’s actually a causal relationship between years of imprisonment and lifetime crimes committed. We think prison as reducing crime, because it takes people who we think would commit crimes and puts them away so they can’t commit them. But it actually has the opposite effect: Maybe you can’t commit a crime while you’re in prison, but you commit a bunch more [crimes] once you get out.

So for many people who commit crimes, it may be possible to stop them from committing more crimes while they’re out in the world, working and contributing to society, because we have all this cool technology now that we didn’t have before. We have very good location-detection technology. We can really make sure people are where they’re supposed to be using biometric technology. We can monitor them. Our smartphones have every kind of data transfer you’d like, from voice to video to pictures to text.

Lopez there links to a summary by the National Institute of Justice of a summary by the National Institute of Justice. In the NIJ summary to which that links, the NIJ argues (emhasis its)

Certainty has a greater impact on deterrence than severity of punishment.

Severity refers to the length of a sentence. Studies show that for most individuals convicted of a crime, short to moderate prison sentences may be a deterrent but longer prison terms produce only a limited deterrent effect.

The NIJ's evidence does not indicate that prison encourages crime- only that a long term has "only a limited deterrent effect."  The community can be well-served when a defendant is sentenced to prison, then subjected to Salib's "cool technology."

Or not. The technology theoretically, technically, exists. The technology for driverless cars exists, also. However, the market for driverless cars remains miniscule while the technology is improved. So, too, is there location-detection technology, biometric technology, and all sorts of fun to be had with smartphones. In the meantime, some felons must be sentenced to prison and thereafter serve a period of supervised parole in the conventional, unsexy fashion utilizing the advantages of human labor.

Among those not sentenced to prison but to probation, there is a large number who run afoul of the requirements imposed by the court in sentencing. Remarkably, these do not bear even a mention by Salib, presumably because there can be few alternatives to prison for them. Instead, when asked if there "are some people who need to go to prison," Salib responds

There are at least some murderers — I’m thinking of, at the very least, the kind of psychotic serial killers, the Ted Bundys of the world — that probably we really should keep away from society. Insofar as there is some percentage of people who really are an irreparable danger to society, the paper concedes that okay, maybe those people really do need to be locked up.

There are in fact "psychotic serial killers." There are, thankfully, few of them. There are far more individuals who murder out of circumstance, perhaps incited by an argument with someone they have known. Instances of extreme domestic violence come to mind, but they are of varying kinds. Less often, a stranger may be the victim of violence which does not end in death.

There also are individuals who kill in the process of committing another offense, such as the sale of drugs or robbery.  Consider when in January, 2014, in a still-unsolved crime

A young Philadelphia architect was shot to death in front of her mother late last night while the two walked from the train to their car in one of Philadelphia’s trendy neighborhoods.
Amber Long, 26, and her mother, 50, were walking along the 900 block of Front Street in the Northern Liberties section of the city when they were ambushed by two robbers.

"One of the males snatched the mother's purse from off of her shoulder and fled on foot. The second male, who was attempting to snatch the purse from the daughter, during the struggle, pulled out a gun and fired it one time, striking her in the chest," said Captain James Clark who heads up the homicide division.

Officers rushed Long to Hahnemann Hospital where she died around 11:15 p.m.

Evidently, our judicial clerk does not believe such a criminal, if caught, should be incarcerated. Instead, he argues

It might not be everyone who commits a violent crime, but there are certainly some people for who prison is the right answer. But it’s almost certainly a small fraction of the millions we incarcerate in America now.

Well, no.   The judicial clerk probably would argue that drug users should not be imprisoned, and with marijuana users, he would have a point. But there are many other people currently locked up for using far more serious drugs and/or for selling these substances.  Further, there are individuals who commit very serious offenses aside from murder, such as sexual, and aggravated, sexual assault; weapons offenses; robbery; and some occasions of theft, such as when last November we could read

Two people have been arrested in an attempted purse snatching at an Acme store in Northeast Philadelphia. And now police are trying to connect the pair to similar crimes in the area.

Thirty-three-year-old Justin Pope and 33-year-old Tiffany Groves are facing multiple charges, including theft-unlawful taking, theft-receiving stolen property, criminal conspiracy and retail theft.

A young man and woman have been captured on surveillance at several stores, but police say these two are not your average customers. Instead of shopping for groceries, investigators say they are scoping out the place, looking to snatch purses.

"Oh my goodness, it leaves me speechless. Like I'm scared to get out of my car now. I'm scared with my purse. Leave my purse in the car, and put it in the trunk," said Leslie Galarza of Northeast Philadelphia.

Eventually, both individuals were sentenced to a short jail term and one also to a period of supervision.

This would not be a range of offenses which Salib would imagine warrants a jail sentence. He concludes

It might not be everyone who commits a violent crime, but there are certainly some people for who prison is the right answer. But it’s almost certainly a small fraction of the millions we incarcerate in America now.

There are almost always extenuating circumstances and even some violent offenses, such as the stereotypical bar fight between two "friends" in which physical injury is negligible, would not warrant jail time. But some good people commit horrific crimes short of psychotically-induced serial killing and some people are just plain evil.    While research into proper prison terms and more effective community supervision continue, imprisonment will- and must- remain an option, however naive some of our judicial clerks are.

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