Revenge driving justice system

I would be the first one to say the justice system is imperfect. After all it is a human construction and I don’t know of any humans who are perfect.

The problems stem from the need to be compassionate about the people who are criminals, the victims, and the public’s need for a perfect utopia where you can walk around naked and leave your house and car unlocked.

There seems to be a perception that we coddle criminals, that they sit on their asses in jail and watch TV all the time, while the victims of crime have their life ruined by whatever degree of the crime that happened to them. People who have that perception are the one’s who want the utopia and want revenge on the criminal.

There is a disturbing trend to make people pay for their crimes for the rest of their lives even after serving a jail sentence.

You have the “3 strikes” rule (aka habitual offender laws) where a person who is convicted of a serious criminal offense 3 or more times get mandatory long term sentences which could include life without parole.

Then you have Megan Laws that require public notifications when a sex offender is released and ends up in someone’s neighborhood. There are also local laws that now prohibit sex offenders from living a certain distance from a school or other places where children are located, and some cities are starting to enact laws preventing sex offenders from even working near them.

You also have some laws that require mentally disabled criminals to be institutionalized after serving their sentences and in some states children as young as 14 can be sentenced to life in prison without parole for violent crimes.

A recent move in the Ohio state legislature would increase the time on parole after a sentence for a violent crime from 3 years to 5.

Senate Bill 228 was written because of people such as [Bruce] Lower, said Bret Vinocur, the president of He worked with Sen. Steve Stivers, a Columbus Republican, to draft the legislation.

Vinocur testified this week before the Senate’s Criminal Justice Committee.

“I’ve had much-less-violent offenders stay on parole five years,” he said in an interview the day before his testimony. “There is no uniformity. … If this law was in effect, he would still be on parole.”

It’s easier to return people to prison on a parole violation than to convict them of a new crime because parole offenses can include acts that are otherwise legal, such as drinking alcohol.

Lower was accused of raping, sodomizing and killing the child in a Columbus court. He pleaded guilty to involuntary manslaughter and served 16 years in prison. Although he was accused of two parole violations, drinking alcohol and possessing pornography, parole authorities released him from supervision in August 2005 after 2 1/2 years.

Vinocur said he has found five MySpace pages and a handful of dating Web sites bearing Lower’s photo and profile.

“Why is this man out?” he asked. “Why is he out on the Internet dating?”

Fixed parole sought for felons

The article says that since Lower was released from parole he has had 2 restraining orders placed on him from two different women. That is the only bad marks he has had since 2005.

What supporters of laws such as Senate Bill 228 fail to take into consideration is that the victims aren’t the only people who suffer from the crime. The criminal and their friends and family suffer as well.

This side effect is called “collateral consequences of criminal charges”. Not only does a convicted criminal serve a court imposed sentence but they can also lose their job, experience disenfranchisement, loss of federal loans for education (for drug charges) or eviction from public housing, not to mention the effects of the “3 Strikes” and Megan’s Law. The criminal’s family also experiences social and economic punishment.

When I was young, the brother of a friend of mine was accused of rape. Even before a trial, my friend’s mother was fired from the scout troop she supervised and many family friends shunned them.

Tougher sentences coupled with these collateral consequences of criminal charges have filled the prisons and ruined many lives and for what? Why not just get to the extreme some people want? Let’s just require automatic life sentences without parole for any violent criminals – even first time offenders. Or better yet let’s just execute them and save on the money and resources needed to warehouse them. Laws like Senate Bill 228 just setup felons to fail after their sentence and comes pretty close to violating the 8th amendment that prohibits cruel and unusual punishments.

Listening to the arguments of the supporters of revenge, one would think a pedophile was lurking behind every bush. But some statistics show that most child abuse happens in the home from parents:

In 2003, 83.9% of victims were abused by a parent. 40.8% of child victims were maltreated by their mothers acting alone and 18.8% by fathers acting alone.

Neglect made up 61% of abuse cases, physical abuse 19%, and sexual abuse 10%

2006 Statistics

People make mistakes. They should be held responsible for those mistakes, but how long should they be held responsible. It seems like many people like Ohio State Sen. Steve Stivers and Bret Vinocur want you to pay forever for your mistakes. Even though such laws won’t create the abuse free utopia they want.

Childhelp says:

Children who experience child abuse & neglect are 59% more likely to be arrested as a juvenile, 28% more likely to be arrested as an adult, and 30% more likely to commit violent crime.

National Child Abuse Statistics

Wouldn’t it make more sense to treat those who abuse children and their child victims. Treat the cause of the violence and just maybe the cycle of violence would be broken and the desire for collateral consequences of criminal charges would disappear.

Our legal system is suppose to be called a system of justice – not revenge. The Rack, public stockades, and public hangings have moved into the dustbin of history, why does it seem to me we are going back to those times. What’s next – the return of the scarlet letter?