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The Federalist Diaries

 

Is Everyone “LOCO”?, Part 5

"Now that we have exceeded so many of our limits -- personal, emotional, relational, physical, financial -- we have no margin at all.  Yet because we don't even know what margin is, we don't realize it is gone. We know that something is not right, but we can't solve the puzzle beyond that.  Our pain is palpable, but our assailant remains unnamed."
-- Richard A. Swenson, M.D., American physician, author, educator

In part 1 about “LOCO”, “Limits on Constructive Output”, it was said that our lives were too complex for us to make the right decisions all the time.  In part 4, we were told that greater local autonomy and new collective goals would help in alleviating this complexity.  We end by exploring how to deal with our complex system of justice. 

           First, we must realize that finding the truth is not the only goal or even the ultimate goal of our system of justice.  This should not be shocking when we consider that the pursuit of truth is limited by the fourth, fifth, and eighth amendments to the Constitution. 

          Furthermore, finding the truth is complicated by human physiology even when we want the truth.  We forget, we interpret events differently, and our minds even remember events which never happened. 

          On top of those, most of us have grown up in a tradition—this distinguished from faith—which accepts the death penalty, an irreversible punishment. 

          Finally, the rehabilitation and punishments do not have a satisfactorily high rate of effectiveness, because the conditions in society and physiology which caused a crime continue to exist after the incarcerated have done their time, which means that the temptations and tribulations giving rise to recidivism lie in wait for released felons.  

          Those alone should make us pause to consider:  if the truth cannot be assured, are the punishments appropriate?  One would be compelled to conclude, “No”.  If we agree that the system is broken and needs fixing, what should be done? 

          We must realize that the conditions in society and physiology are not going to change, at least not quickly and significantly.  Our ever-more-competitive market economy is not going to change, and we are not going to tamper with human genetics to turn out kinder, gentler people.  Those obstacles do limit our options. 

          One small possibility for hope might arise from a different perspective on incarceration.  Would it not be relatively cost-effective and less dangerous if we spent funds to build communities in which released felons would be given a second chance, these communities kept apart from the rest of society, without any chance of felons leaving those communities and mixing with the rest of society until they were legitimately financially stable and restitution had been paid to victims?   Much could go wrong, as imagined in the movie “Escape from New York”, but the idea of a community in which released felons created their own government and economy within our constitutional framework, accumulating assets and awakening aspirations, should be worth trying, more so if holding assets and having aspirations acted as a deterrent to recidivism. 

          This would not be some scheme to reward bad behavior;  rather, this would be a solution that would do less harm to a person if we misjudged his or her innocence.  As for those who did do the crime, there would be less harm to us, because they would have to earn their living and make restitution while kept at a safe distance, and would be more likely to become law-abiding, because, if they did not become so, they would risk their newly-earned assets.

March 15, 2007

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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