Friday, August 12, 2016


I'm on Jury Duty right now - I can't talk much about individual cases, but I am allowed to talk about the job itself.  I'm on the Grand Jury, and we don't declare guilt or innocence, we just decide which cases go to trial. In an effort to make us understand the laws and police procedure better, we've been taking a few field trips.  So far I've watched them training the K9 dogs, I got to ride a helicopter, and I visited a maximum security prison.

Being in Nashville, my fellow jurors are mostly conservative.  They have a dim view of prisoners, and some of them complained about the few perks the prisoners got.  At the prison they mentioned how terrible the food is, and I heard at least one juror mutter that it was better than they deserve.  And so on.

In general, the public seems to agree with them.  For years I've seen Facebook posts praising Joe Arpaio, the Arizona sheriff who got famous for making sure his prison was the roughest one ever.  Look, I don't think prisons should be pleasure cruises either.  However, there is a huge difference between punishment and torture.

When someone says "prisoner", most people visualize the worst kind of serial murderers, rapists, and child molesters. But people are in there for all sorts of reasons. Some are serving 1-year terms for minor crimes. Some have been convicted of things that many Americans don't believe should be crimes. With such a large percentage of Americans lobbying for the legalization of Marijuana, is it fair that some guy who's only crime was possession, be given the same punishment as a murderer? Should he really be doing heavy labor in 138 degree weather, and eating spoiled bologna?

The punishment should fit the crime. And yet all of Arpaio's prisoners, who have committed different crimes, are getting the worst punishments available. One problem is that words like "prisoner" and "criminal" make most people think of rapists and murderers. But is there anyone in this country who hasn't broken a law at some point in their lives?  That's what bugs me most - I have friends who I have witnessed doing illegal things, complaining that prisoners have access to TV.  It's like they don't mind if someone's a criminal, as long as they don't get caught.

The general public needs to realize the difference between punishment and revenge. The ultimate goal is rehabilitation. But harsh prison sentences often serve only to make these people harsher criminals. If a prisoner seems beyond rehabilitation, fine, keep him in there longer, if only to keep him away from the rest of society. But don't piss him off for 10 years and then let him back on the street.

There's two kinds of people in the world. The first kind says, "It's better if a few guilty people go free than to risk wrongly punishing someone innocent." The second kind says, "It's better if a few innocent people get punished than to risk any guilty people going free." I'm the first kind, most people seem to be the second kind.

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