Monday, 12 July 2010

Crimes and Time

It is often claimed "don't do the crime if you cant do the time".  Such a statement, as well as being morally dubious, presumes that the criminal justice system rationally allocates prison time on the basis of just deserts. In fact sentencing is both more random than that and far more bias.  More often than not it is the person rather than the crime that attracts the sentence.  This can be personal but is often a response to the lawbreakers age, class and race.

Everyday through google alerts I get a couple of hundred news stories delivered to my inbox and today I got the following two stories one after the other in an e-mail.
St. Peters secretary gets prison for stealing $573K

Teen sentenced to prison under new spitting law
The theft of $573K was deemed to require six months in prison whilst the young woman who spat at a policeman got a year in prison and two years post prison supervision. Both pleaded guilty - to do anything else is to risk far more severe penalties- so we only hear the states case.  But the idea that courts (or lawmakers) can in any meaningful way weigh up crimes and allocate, as if by science, an appropriate amount of prison time which justly correlates to the specific crime is clearly total nonsense.  So both sentencing law and practice develops its own logic and the white collar criminal who carries out a fraud in a calculating way is deemed to need six months whilst the young woman, who lip is cut in a struggle with a police officer and then spits gets a year. 

Of course the whole idea of using prison as the standard response to almost all lawbreaking is silly and pointless but the way when it is used it is used disproportionally on the young, social excluded and powerless displays the inherent injustice of the criminal justice system.

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