A New Approach to Criminal Justice Reform

There is much discussion today regarding prison reform and a second look at our state and nation's ultra-high incarceration rates.  Many critics of the present system point out that it is cheaper and more productive to finance higher education or technical training for struggling members of society than to pay for long stints in prison, especially for those inmates who are chronic, non-violent criminals due to drug dependencies.

Also in the mix is the argument that such inmates come out of doing hard time meaner and more likely to turn violent due to the environment they just left.  Senator Jim Webb has taken up the cause of prison reform with his customary zeal and has opened up the debate at an opportune time.  State leaders are less aggressive about the issue, although Virginia has led the nation in many types of criminal justice initiatives. Maybe the hesitation stems from a fear of taking on such a sensitive issue that mixes politics, religion and taboo subjects, such as leveraged birth control.

No one can argue that our nation needs to cut costs and find alternatives to incarceration for non-violent offenders.  Hopefully the debate will allow some freethinking about the deeper causes of chronic drug use and recidivism as well.  If we shed the attitude of some religions that promote maximum procreation and examine what really happens to many children raised in drug cultures, maybe we can create a program Virginia taxpayers can embrace because it accomplishes many goals at once, the most important being the comprehensive protection of children.

We should to implement an early release program for specific prisoners now crowding Virginia's jails.  In order to qualify for early release, the inmate would first voluntarily apply for a vasectomy or tubal ligation so that unwanted pregnancies will not derail his/her path toward education, rehabilitation and social responsibility.  Further, tomorrow's at risk generation of children raised in highly dysfunctional environments would shrink through prevention, not abortions or the high mortality rate that too often follows them from conception to deaths that are many times premature and brutal.

To qualify for this parole program the inmate applicant would have to meet the minimum criteria and be subject to the following conditions:

  • Inmate's felony criminal record is for non-violent offenses
  • The inmate must become gainfully employed (at least 20 hours per week) within 90 days of early release plus perform at least two years community service cleaning up litter along roads and streams and performing recycling duties under Virginia's assign-a-highway program.
  • Must serve supervised parole that includes finishing a GED program or the next level of education for which he or she is eligible.
  • The state would drop the drug testing deadfall. Most of these eligible inmates are drug addicts, they are going to fail tests and the prisons are clogged with them. Re-incarcerate them for new crimes, not for simply using drugs. If they were self-disciplined enough to stop using highly addictive drugs they would not be in prison to start with.
  • Use some of the spare prison space created by this early out program to house convicted sexual predators who should be receiving mandatory minimum long term sentences, including life, to protectchildren and women from a group that has an 85% recidivism rate.

Incarcerating the millions of Americans who use illegal drugs cannot be our goal.  It is impossible to achieve and this fruitless effort deflects billions of dollars that can best be used for prevention, rehabilitation, education, youth development and at-risk intervention programs that work.  Drug addicts have a disease. They steal, lie and cheat their own families and friends to feed this disease.  They are unlike the natural born or environmentally hardened criminals that are many times sociopaths that rape, maim and molest other human beings without remorse.  These are the folks that deserve little compassion and long prison sentences.

Some will call this a radical plan. These may also be radical times that pose an opportunity to drop political correctness and resist being bullied by organizations that wish to impose upon the taxpayer plans that simply do not work and carry a tragic cost in human suffering and wasted public funds.

Abolishing parole was considered a radical idea when then Governor George Allen first proposed it but we now see that it substantially brought down crime rates.  We now need to tweak that good idea by discerning between categories of criminals.  Let the non-violent drug addicts go home early, help clean up the environment and if rehab fails, they can just hang out with their erstwhile buddies and waste their lives on their own dime.  As long as they are not having children they usually will not support, or worse, have children that are abused or neglected, they pose much less risk to the public than rapists and pedophiles that should in the worst of cases never again see the light of day.

Just a thought from the hills.

9 Responses »

  1. Interesting thoughts, though I think the part the end of parole having brought down crime rates is a selective use of statistics. (Crime rate reductions were rather widespread,including states with parole, during the same period. Advocates have variously attributed this decline to everything from less parole to reduction of prison education programs to vaccination rates.) Keep in mind, though, that tackling this problem once people have broken the law is tackling it at its most expensive stage. Investments in early education and other workforce prep initiatives have been shown to be productive to individuals at risk and cost efficient to tax payers in terms of securing public safety. Longitudinal studies have shown that a dollar spent on preparing kids for education and life save seven+ dollars in criminal justice management when those kids mature. That's a reduction we can all get behind.

  2. What we need isn't a system to force birth control upon drug offenders. We need to recognize that using drugs shouldn't be a crime. We should have treatment for those who need help stopping using drugs and if drug users commit other crimes to feed their habit they should be charged and incarcerated, but as long as they're only hurting themselves with their drug use why should we care?

  3. Those are some pretty interesting ideas. Don't agree with the forced birth control, though, because with proper treatment those people can eventually build a stable enough environment that is suitable for procreation.

  4. "Some will call this a radical plan. These may also be radical times that pose an opportunity to drop political correctness and resist being bullied by organizations that wish to impose upon the taxpayer plans that simply do not work and carry a tragic cost in human suffering and wasted public funds."

    Well said my friend.

  5. Very clever, have all those that are less than bright or white voluntarily remove themselves from the gene pool. The biggest predictor of poverty is having a child. How about truthful sex education in our public schools? How about funding programs that make birth control affordable to the poor? If Virginia keeps on doing what it does when it comes to sexuality won't we continue to get the same results? Lots of poor under educated citizens making bad decisions. Prevention seems to be the most logical approach.

  6. In order to keep the lively discussion going I wish to make two points: First, this is not forced birth control as it plainly contemplates the eligible inmate will have to apply for the procedure. Anyone not wishing to apply would have a clear choice. The proposal does have incentives, including a chance to get back to friends and family and not have drug screening and re-incarceration become the primary force and fear in an addict's life. A small time drug dealer who mostly sold and traded among his fellow addicts here in SW Va finally got a 40 year sentence, none suspended, which means he will be about 80 years old when he gets out under the current system. This is a huge waste of resources. Secondly, the demographics in SW Va are about 97% white and our drug abuse rate is one of the highest in the nation, so the hint that such a plan is aimed toward non-whites does not hold water. Conversely, to assume that when the term "drug addict" is used always means non-whites, is a prejudice and stereotype for sure. Drugs incapacitates without regard to race, religion, gender or national origin. In that sense, drug addiction is the world's most equal opportunity activity of all. Therefore, the gene pool is not the issue, the environment that prevails in a drug impacted household is.

  7. Thank you for responding to my comments. I did not doubt the sincerity of your original post. I'm just asking for the more traditional/conservative readers and our legislators to see that the policies that are presently embraced do not work. Poor people, uneducated people, drug addicted people have the same desire for human connection and yes engaging in sex that the more fortunate among us have. If we had well established programs that helped poor women to have access to birth control and watched for a decade or so I'm sure we would see a trend in lower birth rates in that group. Why should we have to spend the funds to remediate when prevention costs far less. I am well aware of the poverty rate in your area of SW Virginia. Last year, The Washington Post did a heartbreaking article about the drug abuse in your area. The fact that a lot of people there have lost their teeth to lack of dental care plus drug abuse is shocking. The reality of poverty takes a heavy toll, especially in a country that has so much. While not excusing the use of illegal substances, I can see how it can inform an individuals choice to use and then sell drugs to support a habit that numbs you to your reality. Until we free ourselves from ideologues we will never move forward. I believe that most people want to get up everyday and do meaningful work that pays a living wage. I believe that most people would make the same decisions that the more fortunate among us make if they were not marginalized. It can't happen without a support system that begins with the ability to control when you have a child. If we really value human life, then we must change the policies that we now endorse. The drug abuser that you want to submit to sterilization might have had a different outcome had his mother had more control over when she gave birth. Would like to hear your thoughts.

  8. In my opinion, the non-violent drug offenders should have their sentences lessened only if they genuinely seek to receive
    rehabilitation, be it residential treatment, N.A. etc. The worse possible thing is to incarcerate a non-violent drug offender where he/she is exposed to the same habit forming drugs that they can get on the streets. Please do not be fooled into thinking that the prison system is so secure, that drugs cant be found in there. Prison is the number 2 booming business making money, besides the war, which is number 1. These people have a disease, an illness and what they need is professional help along with support from family and friends, church as well as keeping themselves occupied and away from the old way of life. Incarcerating them only institutionalizes them and makes them just that more of a hardened criminal. Instead of throwing them in prisons with murderers, rapists, violent offenders etc. why not take one of the prisons and turn it into camps for drug offenders where they can receive professional help such as psychological counseling which in turn will lead them to why they ever turned to drugs for comfort and why that same drug landed them in a prison in the first place. There are more ways to handle these offenders than to harden their minds and souls with incarceration.

  9. Could you please cite sources for your article. It's a wonderful piece but where are you pulling your facts from? Sorry for the criticism, and thank you for your time.