Painful Truth: No, we can’t just lock them all up

Non-violent offenders shouldn’t be put behind bars.

Steal a car? Go to jail. Burgle a house? Go to jail. Sell drugs? Go to jail.

I’m sorry. I just don’t believe it. I don’t think most people should go to jail. I know I’m swimming against the current here, but let me say this: most criminals should not go to jail, at all.

Here’s a short list of people I think belong in the actual crowbar hotel:

• Killers

• Violent offenders

• Sex offenders

That’s it.

But for thieves and drug addicts, property criminals and scam artists, I just don’t see prison as a solution.

I don’t think every non-violent offender is a barrel of laughs. Con artists, for example, are one of the lowest forms of life that ever crawled from the primordial ooze. They destroy lives, and every one I’ve met has been a craven liar.

But that has nothing to do with how we hold people to account for their crimes.

If I had my way, we’d base our justice system on public restitution.

See, I’m not suggesting convicted fraudsters and thieves get to just walk away. I want them to serve the community they wronged.

In place of prison, I’d rather see lengthy sentences of community service. Years, decades in some cases. And not served in a comfortable home, but on welfare-level income (cheaper by far than prison) their assets frozen or seized to pay restitution to their victims.

I’d like to see convicts keep up parks and clean graffiti, fill potholes and lick envelopes for charities, staff food banks and drive cancer patients to appointments. I’d like them to be useful.

(If they screw that up? Well, then there’s prison.)

Maybe I’m an idealist, but I think being around good people, doing good things, might be better for rehabilitation than being locked up with a bunch of other crooks.

I doubt very much that in an era in which every politician calls for being tougher on crime this approach has any hope. But I really believe prison is both cruel and pointless for most offenders.

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