Monday, March 30, 2009

Senator Webb introduced ground-up prison reform legislation

I hope this legislation get passed—and that it tackles several structural issues that have produced pervasive dry rot in our legal system: 

(1) the job of District Attorney often being an elective office, which gives DA's a powerful incentive to seek victory instead of justice; 

(2) lobbying by the prison guard unions to increase prison populations with disproportionate terms, no rehabilitation, and locking up people we just don't like, such as drug abusers, instead of treating them in the public health system;

(3) the tendency of local government to use the law for revenue enhancement instead of solely focusing on public safety (think red light cameras on left- and right-hand turn lights, which actually increases accidents by causing a sharp increase in rear-enders).

The latest example of DA abuse of power is prosecuting middle school girls for "possession and distribution of child pornography" i.e., they posted racy pictures of themselves on MySpace or similar venues. This is now going on in at least nine states. If convicted, these children--being tried as adults, of course--face prison sentences of up to 17 years, lifetime registration as sex offenders, lifetime disenfranchisement in many states, and also in many states being forbidden for life to go within 2,000 ft. of anywhere children congregate. 

This is insane. Legally we define children as people too young to be held fully responsible for their actions. By treating 14 year old girls as adults we're saying they're old enough to be fully accountable for their actions. But adults can legally distribute racy photographs of themselves. So it's a Catch-22. 

And of course even if the DAs drop the charges after using the girls as an example to scare other children into behaving themselves, what will it do to these 13 and 14 year old girls? At the very least they're spending months terrified of being imprisoned until they're in their mid-30s. I'd be amazed if many of them didn't wind up with post traumatic stress disorder.

But the DAs do it because it shows how tough they are on crime, and because they look at the law to see how many people they can jam into the criminal system. 

And if some DA doesn't do stuff like this you can be sure that next election some opponent will accuse him of being "soft on child porn." Never mind that the "pornographer" is a child herself, taking pictures of herself by herself, posting them on MySpace to impress some boyfriend. 

Societies that sacrifice children to further social goals…hmm…this makes us like the Taliban, who congratulate themselves every time they blow up a school that teaches girls. And like our crusading DA's, the Taliban also say they destroy girls' lives...because they revere girls. That it's "for their own good." 

Becoming like the Taliban—not an ideal I found in my high school civics texts.

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