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Your Views: Our state prison system, built on vengeance, is wasteful

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April 15, 2014

In the early '80s, I heard a detective from Scotland Yard speak on the death penalty.

His position was that the strict standards of evidence we use to avoid killing an innocent allows other criminals to go free on technicalities. The harsher the penalty, the more reluctant jurors are to convict.

Trial attorneys do their best to protect the innocent, as they well should, but spending billions for a system built on exacting vengeance is wasteful.

“Tough on crime” plays well in politics. We have duped ourselves into thinking longer sentences make us safe. If that's the case, why are Europe and Canada generally safer? Granted, some psychopaths must remain locked up for life, but we have created a prison industrial complex in which for-profit prisons profit handsomely from quasi criminals such as undocumented workers. They lobbied successfully to call these desperate breadwinners “illegal aliens.” It's good for business. Overzealous prosecutors gain political points for overcharging criminal acts.

Let me close with an example. A group of high school athletes found thrill in stealing beer from open garages. The thrill stopped when one got caught. An overzealous prosecutor put him on a tight leash, later felonizing him for parole violation (drinking beer). He is now a Ph.D. but unable to find suitable work because of this “felony” conviction. This relatively minor offense led to a life sentence.

At some point, we must declare a debt repaid and allow full repatriation of offenders.

JOHN F. MACEK

Janesville



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