I’ve been saying one of the main issues I want to push for in the Assembly is justice reform, but that’s an incredibly broad term. So what do I mean by that? Well it’s broad on purpose, there’s a wide variety of places the government interacts with the citizen which could be made more just. I’ll look for opportunities to join up with Republican and Democratic members of the Assembly to move the ball on whichever issues I am. Some of the things we might want to reform:
- Civil asset forfeiture
- No-knock raids
- Terms of probation
- Decriminalization of victimless crimes
- Excessive fines & takings
- Immunity (qualified and maybe even absolute)
- Occupational licensing (yes it’s tangentially related)
Well, that’s an awful lot to talk about. Too much for one day. So today I’ll just get into one narrow point, one of the biggest affronts to liberty in Georgia…
That’s just fancy talk for sending too many people to jail and/or prison. And we do. A Georgian is
- 3 x as likely to be locked up as a Minnesotan
- 2 x as likely as a Utahn
- Even more likely than an Alabaman
- 4 x as likely as someone in that stalwart of human rights, Saudi Arabia
- 5 x as likely as a Mexican
- 6 x as likely as a Ukranian
- 7 x as likely as a Frenchy
- You get the idea
Why is that? Well, first of all, let me ask this basic question: who should be in prison? For me the answer is obvious: people whose actions have proven they are a danger to others.
So ask yourself: are Georgians terrible, dangerous people? I have nothing against folks from Utah. But are we really more than twice as dangerously criminal as they are? I don’t think so. I think Georgians are by and large decent people.
So who’s locked up that shouldn’t be? To my mind the main targets should be:
- People who haven’t been convicted of anything
- People who were convicted of something non-violent
- Subset of that: people who were convicted of something which shouldn’t be against the law at all
The first case, the innocent-until-proven-guilty crowd, are mostly people who can’t afford bail, and they are most of the people in jail in Georgia. We should really try to avoid locking people up for being poor. But also if you really believe in “innocent until proven guilty”, I hope it concerns you how many people are in jail simply because someone said so, patiently waiting for their day in court.
The main part of the second group should be facing punishment that’s less harmful to society. A victim of petty theft, for example, can be made whole without breaking up families and ending careers.
And it should always, ALWAYS, be the case that community service or similar can substitute for a fine. Once again, we shouldn’t lock someone up for being poor. In this case it’s actually worse than that, since getting locked up can cause other financial problems (losing a job, missing bill payments, etc.) putting them in a place where they’re even less likely to pay your fine. Oh and be careful with those late fees.
There may be cases where someone is just recalcitrantly refusing to submit to any form of correction other than jail, for years on end. Perhaps there may be a case so bad you feel the need to lock them up for a night or two to wake them up. But we really, truly, need to look for any other reasonable option.
Not the government’s business
There are things people do to themselves and each other I wish they wouldn’t, but haven’t done anything to me directly. Does that give me a right to put them in a cage in my house to stop them? If I’m not justified in doing so, how am I justified in asking police to do it for me?
It’s not a bad thing that you have concern for folks who make bad or questionable life choices, possibly starting from a bad position, and end up hurting themselves in one way or another. But putting that person in jail isn’t going to help them.
Yes this includes solicitation, gambling, possession, non-violent gun charges, the usual. But you knew I was going to say this, didn’t you?