Aaron Hernandez, 25, the former New England Patriots star, was recently sentenced to life in prison without parole in the killing of Odin Lloyd, who was dating the sister of his fiancée. That means we will be responsible for room and board for him for the next sixty years or so. The total cost will run to at least $3,000,000, probably a whole lot more because he will eventually become aged and infirm, and we will still be paying. While his crime deserves a severe punishment, such draconian sentences don’t actually accomplish anything.
The entire stupidity of endless prison sentences came about so politicians can pretend to be “tough on crime”. They think this beefs up their testosterone cred.
Being “tough on crime” is supposed to lead to less crime. But it does not. We know this because crime fell equally over the past few decades in states that were “tough on crime” and states that were not. Obviously, then, being “tough on crime” just leads to re-election of people who perhaps should not be, and burdens the budget with costs greater than what we spend on education.
Being “tough on crime”
does not lead to less crime.
Why doesn’t it help? Well, for one thing, criminal activity is a young man’s sport. Part of the reason for that is that brain development of young men lags behind the brain development of young women by five years, or even as much as a decade. Most young men, probably as strong and fast as they will ever be, have the social skills, emotional maturity, and judgement of a ten-to-fifteen-year-old girl. Basically, without substantial parental guidance, they can do incredibly stupid things, and may well earn themselves a prison sentence in the process.
“Tough on crime” sentencing
doesn’t reduce crime,
does nothing to help the prisoner,
and fails to treat the mentally ill.
The male’s brain matures in his mid-twenties about the time his body begins to slow down. Tennis pros are pretty much done by age thirty, for example. By the time a guy is forty, not only is his brain as socially mature as it will ever be, but he no longer has the strength and stamina for the quaint deeds that earned him state room and board. In most cases it is pointless to keep such a man in prison, because he’s not so frisky anymore, and has lost interest in his juvenile activities. We are forced to pay for his long forced inactivity and he is forced to make no contribution to society.
Another thing that politicians simply don’t get is that one year behind bars is a hell of a long time. We get a small dose of what it is like when we are sick and confined to bed for a week or two. By the time we recover we have cabin fever, so named by frontier families who could not go outside for weeks or months at a time because of heavy snow. We are very impatient with our confinement, but in prison it is state disapproval that prevents us leaving, not the weather.
What we should be doing
is addressing inequality.
Yet we put millions of people, particularly black men, behind bars for decades for relatively un-serious crimes, and practically every week we learn of yet another who was falsely imprisoned for decades.
It’s also noteworthy that one out of four prisoners suffers from mental illness, which often goes untreated, thus turning him into a frequent resident at the state facilities. Obviously, the way to keep these guys out of prison is to treat them and supervise their lives.
“Tough on crime” sentencing is pointless. The way we treat lawbreakers doesn’t reduce crime, it does nothing to help the prisoner learn to obey the law, and fails to provide the treatment the mentally ill require.
An equal shot at a good job
and fair pay will reduce crime.
However, what we should be doing is addressing the core reasons for crime in the first place. It’s not an original thought that most crime is the result of inequality and social dystopia, both of which are increasing. ML King said it, as did many others. When there are no opportunities for the young, especially the young poor, to live a decent life and earn a decent living, they turn to the only thing that is left. An equal shot at a good job and fair pay will reduce crime.
Education is of primary importance. Some percentage of the poor and black simply don’t get that, and by keeping themselves purposely ignorant they virtually guarantee they will cycle through the criminal justice system repeatedly, and never live a normal life. By the time they have had one or two cycles of the county jail many are open to more sensible options.
“Tough on crime”? It’s a policy that has nothing to do with reducing crime, and results in draconian sentencing that saddles us with huge costs and makes us the world leader in imprisonment of our own citizens, even worse than the Soviet Union and Apartheid South Africa.