Sour Thoughts From the Police Beat

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Things don’t work like they spoza. A cause of this dysfunction is the notion that criminals can “pay their debt to society” and then be all better, as if crimes were purchases made on a credit card. Say that a marginal human wielding a bolo knife crawls through a window, burglarizes the house, and gets caught and sentenced to five years. He gets out some time later having “paid his debt”—actually the citizenry have paid $20K a year to keep him fed and comfortable. He is now thought to have been cleansed and ready to make a fresh start.

Not a chance.

As any cop can tell you, career criminals commit almost all crime. When Willy Bill gets caught carrying a television out from someone’s window, you will find, with the absolute certainty one associates with bankruptcy in a Democratic administration, that he has a rap sheet going back to puberty. Two years after getting out for one offense, he will be arrested for another. Normal, civilized people don’t suddenly think, “Gosh, slow day. I guess I’ll do a little burglary.” Either you don’t do it at all, or it’s all you do.

Whenever I covered a guy who stabbed a woman thirty-seven times while robbing her at an ATM, I knew he would prove to be out on parole for something similar. He always was. Which is why three-strikes-and-you’re-out makes considerable sense, at least for serious crimes: e.g., forcible rape, armed robbery, and ADW, though not for felony shoplifting or peddling grass. You can cage a rattlesnake after it bites someone, but when you let it out, it is still a rattlesnake.

Which brings us to parole and the phoniness of sentencing.

Suppose that a judge gives Willy Bill fifteen years for a bloody robbery. This looks good to the public: Grr, woof, bow-wow. Sternness. But Willy gets time off for good behavior and a parole-eligibility date in seven years or next Wednesday, whichever comes first. The sentence he gets isn’t the sentence he serves. It has to do with crowding in prisons and, I strongly suspect, a desire to make it appear to the public that criminals are being punished when they aren’t much.

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