Failure of the worst kind

In a recent article from the Salt Lake Tribune (article available here) another example of governments failure to serve the citizens it is supposed to serve, demonstrates society’s absolute failure to address the re-entry of those convicted of a crime.  The unintended consequences of these draconian policies adversely effect minorities and the poor where a conviction for even a minor crime becomes a life sentence.

The message, even for those who are committed to changing their lives, is that you are not welcome.  You will always be a criminal and we do not want you in our community.  And with that message, why should those convicted of a crime even make an effort to live a law abiding lifestyle.  Why, when all of the promise of the American Dream is stripped away, would these outcasts even consider making substantive changes in their lives?

What kind of a world are we building if we do not acknowledge the possibility of personal change?  What about redemption?  Forgiveness?  That government is behind the scenes providing financial incentives (and punishments) for the forced segregation and discrimination of certain segments of the population is appalling.

In 2005, Ogden began its Good Landlord program to reduce crimes and nuisances. It gives participating landlords discounts on business licenses if they conduct credit and criminal-background checks on potential tenants and disqualify anyone on probation or parole for a felony conviction.

The program and other police efforts aim to reduce the number of probationers and parolees in the city, and in recent years, the rules and policing have reduced crime and calls to police, said Jon Greiner, Ogden’s police chief and its state senator.

As for where someone on probation or parole should go, Greiner asks, “Why is that my responsibility?”

In response to Chief Greiner’s comments: it is your responsibility because you are the chief law enforcement official for Ogden City.  It is your responsibility as a state Senator.  It is your responsibility because you have stepped forward to serve ALL MEMBERS OF THE COMMUNITY.  And it is your responsibility as a human being.

Policies such as the “good landlord program” are divisive and do more to tear apart a community than to make it safe.  These policies breed mistrust of the government and law enforcement in general and the attitude of government officials is inexcusable.  Crime is a community problem and requires a community solution, banishing “undesirable” members of the community only compounds the problem.

It makes sense to encourage those in transition back into the community to get a job, establish a prosocial lifestyle (including a place to live), and even get into a treatment program when that is applicable.  But when the government intentionally establishes barriers to re-entry the only winner is the government.  They get to perpetuate the “revolving door” criminal justice system and continue the erosion of personal liberty, fundamental rights, and freedom.

“As different areas adopt these policies, it unfortunately can deter offenders from turning their lives around,” Corrections spokesman Steve Gehrke said in a written statement. “They already have several stressors to overcome upon parole. …

This failure of government is not likely to draw significant attention or discussion.  After all, it is political suicide to stand up for the rights of those convicted of a crime.  It is politically expedient to defy the research and related failure years of tough on crime rhetoric and continue to divide and conquer the American people in domestic warfare.

Just look to the failures of the “Drug War” or the “War on Poverty” and you will see the results of a government at war with the people.  The prison industrial complex that has been constructed over the past thirty years is built upon the shoulders of these political leaders who are more interested in being elected to public office than serving the needs of the electorate.

What might happen if the politicians were to have a Conrad Black type experience (article available here)?  The following is an excerpt from a National Post editorial:

It had been an interesting experience, from which I developed a much greater practical knowledge than I had ever had before of those who had drawn a short straw from the system; of the realities of street level American race relations; of the pathology of incorrigible criminals; and of the wasted opportunities for the reintegration of many of these people into society. I saw at close range the failure of the U.S. War on Drugs, with absurd sentences, (including 20 years for marijuana offences, although 42% of Americans have used marijuana and it is the greatest cash crop in California.) A trillion dollars have been spent, a million easily replaceable small fry are in prison, and the targeted substances are more available and of better quality than ever, while producing countries such as Colombia and Mexico are in a state of civil war.

I had seen at close range the injustice of sentences one hundred times more severe for crack cocaine than for powder cocaine, a straight act of discrimination against African-Americans, that even the first black president and attorney general have only ameliorated with tepid support for a measure, still being debated, to reduce the disparity of sentence from 100 to one to 18 to one.

And I had heard the vehement allegations of many fellow residents of the fraudulence of the public defender system, where court-appointed lawyers, it is universally and plausibly alleged, are more often than not stooges of the prosecutors. They are paid for the number of clients they represent rather than for their level of success, and they do usually plead their clients to prison. They provide a thin veneer for the fable of the poor citizen’s day in court to receive impartial justice through due process.

And I had the opportunity to see why the United States has six to twelve times as many incarcerated people as other prosperous democracies, (Australia, Canada, France, Germany, Japan, and the United Kingdom), how the prison industry grew, and successfully sought more prisoners, longer sentences, and maximal possibilities of probation violations and a swift return to custody.

Before I got into the maw of the U.S. legal system, I did not realize the country has 47 million people with a criminal record, (most for relatively trivial offenses,) or that prosecutors won more than 90% of their cases. There, at Coleman, I had seen the courage of self-help, the pathos of broken men, the drawn faces of the hopeless, the glazed expression of the heavily medicated, (90% of Americans judged to require confinement for psychiatric reasons are in the prison system), and the nonchalance of those who find prison a comfortable welfare system compared to the skid row that was their former milieu. America’s 2.4 million prisoners, and millions more awaiting trial or on supervised release, are an ostracized, voiceless legion of the walking dead; they are no one’s constituency.  Read more:

Communities across the country are systematically being ripped apart and destroyed by government policies and practices such as the Ogden example discussed above.  Through fear and intimidation the stage is set for a social caste system and the perpetuation of bigotry and hate.  This Crime Report article (available here) adds the following:

I’m referring to a set of laws and practices and customs that operated to lock a group defined largely by race into permanent second-class status by law.  In some major American cities the majority of African-American men are locked behind bars or labeled felons for life. Once you’re labeled a felon you’re trapped in a permanent second-class status in which you may be denied the right to vote, (and are)  automatically excluded from juries, legally discriminated against in employment, housing, access to education and public benefits.

We haven’t ended racial caste in America, we’ve merely redesigned it by waging a drug war almost exclusively in poor communities of color even though studies have shown consistently that people of color are no more likely to use or sell illegal drugs than whites. We have managed to criminalize generations of African Americans and effectively relegate them to a second-class status that is analogous in many respects to the one they occupied in the Jim Crow era.

Policies, like the “good landlord program” and “crime-free housing” and the associated attitudes of government officials do not encourage personal change or make us any safer.  On the contrary, the government’s response to crime encourages more criminal behavior by setting barriers to re-entry.  As a nation, we have built a system of justice that by design have excised forgiveness and redemption from the solution.  The result is the largest prison population in the world.

This is failure of the worst kind.