I played a game of Monopoly with family this weekend (Star Wars Monopoly, for my fellow nerds out there). I went through a bad spot. I kept landing in the “Go To Jail” square, or rolling the number of doubles that sent me to jail. This run of bad luck resulted in my not passing “Go” and collecting any money for several turns.
I didn’t win the game. The odds were stacked against me.
There’s this nifty phrase I like to use sometimes called “disproportionate response.” You know, when the reaction that a person has to something is far more severe than the situation that triggered that response. I thought about that phrase again last week during a conversation about a Ponzi scheme that was in the news. In fact, there’s been a lot of Ponzi schemes in the news lately…almost perpetually so since Madoff’s venture of ill repute. The conversation I was having last week in particular involved the disproportionate (I really like that word) sentence that an individual received in prison after his conviction in such a scheme.
As if that prison sentence would somehow result in the restoration of the monies stolen from investors. Or, as if the individual sentenced (who in the case of this particular story won’t be released until he’s in his nineties) somehow learned their lesson. I have a huge issue with people who commit crimes (and, let’s be honest: hasn’t everyone committed a crime at some level in their lives?) being locked away from the rest of society for inordinate amounts of time in a system that’s called a “correctional system,” and that, in fact, does nothing of the sort. I understand keeping violent criminals convicted of rape or murder locked away, because it protects innocent victims and the rest of society at large. But the offenses for which an individual can lose half their lives, or the rest of their lives, in prison are simply not serious enough to merit such a punishment. Someone with a drug habit is caught in possession during a traffic stop and goes away for the prime of their life, never to get it back. Someone commits financial fraud (apparently even worse than murder in a capitalist society), and they can easily lose the rest of their lives…literally, being locked away for defrauding money.
Actually, for defrauding numbers in a bank account. Since leaving the gold standard, it’s not even real money. I mean, really. That’s was someone’s life.
I guess my issue is with a criminal justice system that is based on punishment instead of restitution, that has almost no allowance for second chances for offenders. In short, I have a problem with a justice system that does not include grace.
As I’ve mentioned before in this blog, I imagine a system that takes those convicted of a crime and places them into restitution and reimbursement programs based upon their crime; into rehabilitation and educational programs based upon their offense. The teenager who vandalized a store front by breaking out a window is forced to work as an apprentice to someone in the trade of glass repair, with one of his projects being the replacing of the glass he shattered, until he masters the craft. He then has a skill with which to earn a respectable living and has recompensed the business owner for the damage he caused. Someone who defrauds people of money if forced to serve enough labor time with an organization until the amount of money that they defrauded (as much as possible) is returned to the victims. You get the idea. These are productive uses of tax money, and productive to those who have made a mistake. They aren’t locked away in subhuman conditions, losing their right to vote and, essentially, their ability to have gainful employment because of a mistake that any of us could have made in similar circumstances.
In Western culture, there are very few second chances afforded anyone who makes an error. Sometimes, you just roll the dice wrong, and being prevented from passing “Go” really doesn’t help you to get past the poor choice. I find it little wonder that many would have difficulty with faith, believing that there was a chance for redemption after an error, no matter how egregious. A government of any society must enforce penalties for breaking laws that maintain the common good…this is certain. Those penalties, however, must leave room for hope.
Because there’s precious little hope to go around in our culture, as is.