Crime and Punishment

Sour Thoughts From the Police Beat

February 27, 2014

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Sour Thoughts From the Police Beat

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.

“As any cop can tell you, career criminals commit almost all crime.”

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.

Then you have Willy Bill and his parole hearing. Parole boards often consist of gullible citizens with no experience of criminal behavior. Further, Willy is a good con man. He does great repentance-speak. He is All Fixed Now. Nobody produces better sincerity than a psychopath who wants out. It’s forty-weight. You could lube a diesel with it. The parole board bites. Three months later he kills a woman.

Jesus is responsible for much of this mayhem. Prisons churn out conversions to Christ like Hershey’s does chocolate kisses. I once spent a week of workdays in the Cook County Jail in Chicago when a friend was head of IAD there. He arranged for me to interview prisoners. I heard a common song: “I done wrong. I know I did. But I found Jesus. He my man now. All I want is serve my savior.”

Sure. Any day now. But it convinces parole boards, some of them anyway. When he gets out, whatever he did, he’ll do again. Within weeks, most likely. He’s doesn’t know how to do anything else. The system rests on the idea that criminals can get better. Mostly they don’t. They can’t.

Incidentally, if you want a marvelous (I thought, anyway) book about how scams work in the slam, try Games Criminals Play. It’s a hoot.

Then comes plea-bargaining, a labor-saving device for prosecutors and judges. America is supposed to have trial by jury. It says so in the Constitution we used to have. Actually, something over 90% of cases are pleaded. If ten percent of criminals had a jury trial, the system would stop like a two-dollar watch. Our legal system supposes we are a civilized people and that such peoples don’t commit a lot of crime. Try that in Detroit, Newark, Camden, Chicago.

Suppose that an urban hairball slingin’ rock on the corner fires seven times at a competitor with a stolen Glock, missing because he has no idea how to shoot. He is arrested for attempting murder, which is exactly what he was attempting. The public defender pleads him down to aggravated assault or malicious jaywalking, or maybe Inappropriate Thought, which is what we pay PDs to do: keep violent felons on the street (which, by the way, they know perfectly well they are doing). What with time off and a probably stupid parole board that additionally has been told to let people go because the slams are full to bursting, a few years later he’s out and, sure enough, kills….


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