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April 05, 2005


R. Alex

I say we should get'em both ways.

If someone breaks in to my apartment and steals stuff (which, as you know, is not a wholly hypothetical proposition), I want them to go to jail. Even if no one was physically hurt. I want knowledge that they could go to jail to be a factor in their thought processes.

White collar crooks are crooks all the same. I can't sit here and say "That guy who took $200 of stuff out of my apartment ought to go to jail, but the guy who took $20,000 from someone else's coffers shouldn't."

R. Alex

Hmmm... I wasn't as articulate as I try to be.

The reason that you send someone to jail for non-violent crimes is primarily a matter of property rights. I should be able to leave my apartment and know the stuff will be there when I get back. I should be able to put money into a bank account and know that it'll still be there when I want to withdraw it.

So if my property (and its security) is so important to me then why isn't it sufficient for criminals? Because it all becomes part of a calculation. If the worst that can happen is that they lose the money they've stolen (or more money on top of that), then in a worst-case scenario they just start stealing again. They'll get caught, lose their money, and start all over. In the meantime they'll be living pretty high on the hog (the stuff will get repossessed, but they can just go out and buy it again when they steal more).

But if they know that by stealing they will be removed from their wife and family, they will lose the right to do this and that, then that changes the calculation entirely. People that do have something to lose will be much less likely to steal. Even those that have little on the outside are generally happy to get out and not-so-happy to be going back (though not not-so-happy enough not to do what gets them sent there).

Adrianne Truett

I'd put people who break into houses, pick pockets, etc., in jail. That's the distinction I was trying to make by saying "corporate theft." There's not an absolute difference in terms of property rights, of course, and individual people do get affected in the end, but I think there's a difference in the mindset of people who'll steal $2mil on the books / fudge their taxes by $300 / lift a can of Coke from Wal-Mart and people who'll break into someone's house and make off with $50,000 in jewelry / take $10 out of someone's wallet. In the first case, they can rationalize it to themselves that nobody's getting hurt except a nebulous Corporation. I dare say most shoplifters/embezzlers/tax cheaters would have problems with housebreaking. But the people who are immediately aware that an individual person gets hurt by their actions, yet don't care (or do it for that reason!), are, in my mind, more dangerous to society as a whole.

As for the rest, I understand your points.

Perhaps more penal servitude is the idea.... (Woohoo! chain gangs!)... but with more of a focus on doing something that confronts them with the effects of their crime, and high-intensity community-service things (no prom-dress drives), rather than license plates.

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