The System is Broken
What is the purpose of incarceration?
Official definitions and intentions of prison time vary, but the basic principles are these: protecting the public from danger, rehabilitating offenders, and metering would-be
offenders from committing similar crimes in the future.
It seems commonly known that the way the United States government, and the states beneath it, incarcerates people is broken. So much so that the United States Supreme Court has recently ordered California to release a large portion of its incarcerated population. The decision states that California prisons are so overcrowded that basic medical and mental health care cannot be reasonably provided which qualifies as cruel and unusual punishment.
Two Examples in the News
Here are two stories which highlight the most fractured pieces of the Judicial branch of government, arguably the first cog in this engine of mass incarceration.
Former presidential candidate John Edwards was indicted on Friday June 3, 2011 on charges that, basically, he is a Dirtbag. The case against Edwards cites a very liberal interpretation of campaign finance laws from 1971, and a conspiracy charge wholly predicated on the illegal nature of the alleged campaign finance violations.
Edwards is a dirty politician [redundancy intentional], without a doubt. Add to his status as a politician, he is a lying jerk who cheated on his wife while she was losing a battle with terminal cancer. He also had a child with his mistress, which he tried to hide, while his wife was dying. He is not a man of moral integrity. However, he may very well have not broken any laws.
That, however, is a decision for the federal courts to make.
In the negotiations that occurred just before his indictment was handed down by a Grand Jury, a plea agreement was discussed well into the early morning hours. The negotiations evolved from 2 felony guilty pleas without to 3 misdemeanor pleas with possibility of incarceration. Prosecutors wanted a felony on his record jail time. Edwards, who is a trial attorney himself, declined the final offer because it prevented his attorneys from even discussing incarceration alternatives with the judge.
In this case (as in so many others) prosecutorial charging and bargaining choices are driven by prosecutorial interest and power to demand a certain type of sentence.
Ryan LeVin Purchases his Freedom
An Illinois man killed two British businessmen while driving drunk. The Chicago Tribune reported the story as the sentencing piece unfolded. Prison time was pit against financially providing for the two families of the dead businessmen.
Ryan LeVin, 36, will spend 2 years on home confinement in one of his parents’ waterfront condominiums. This, for killing two men with his Porsche 911 Turbo. This seemingly light sentence came to be when the decision had to be made between using LeVin’s substantial financial means to provide for the families of his victims and that of punishing him through incarceration (of which he was facing up to 45 years).
In the end, his checkbook bought his freedom from prison. The decision has caused a lot of ire from the legal profession about the system and freedom being for sale.