A Poisonous Political Dynamic

Not much more to add to Shaun Martin here.  To be sure, this is a nonviolent offense but one that is sexual in nature — but I agree that this isn’t something that should require a guy to register as a sex offender for the rest of his life.  One wonders if a guy made a sexually suggestive gesture at a woman while at a boozy party, he would have got similar treatment — or if a woman made a similar gesture at a man.

Probation seems about right for this guy, but getting put on the Megan’s Law list does not seem appropriate.  The punishment should fit the crime.

The political dynamic of ever-accelerating punishments is easy to understand.  No legislator, no judge, no prosecutor, wants to be seen as “soft on crime,” so they charge not only the maximum plausible offense and lesser-includeds, but then they take it up the next level; they mandate and insist upon harsher and harsher punishments.  This has been going on for generations now, and so when you approach already-tough crime laws, you have to prove that you are tougher than anyone who came before you.  Thus, a crime that in 1950 would have got you probation and a fine winds up being punished with mandatory public service in 1960 and then three to six months in 1970 and then one to two years in 1980 and then two to ten years in 1990 and five to twenty years in 2000 and in 2010, it’s a third strike and you’ve got twenty-five to life.  Same crime the whole time.  Perhaps that’s a little dramatic, but you get the idea.

There seems to be tremendous fear and anxiety about crime out there, or at least great political appetite for this “tough on crime” dynamic — but the fact of the matter is, crime is down and has been going down for the better part of a generation.  As we have fewer and fewer criminals, do we have to be harsher and harsher on them?  Because the escalating one-way street is eventually poisonous to justice.

Burt Likko

Pseudonymous Portlander. Homebrewer. Atheist. Recovering litigator. Recovering Republican. Recovering Catholic. Recovering divorcé. Recovering Former Editor-in-Chief of Ordinary Times. House Likko's Words: Scite Verum. Colite Iusticia. Vivere Con Gaudium.