Those Crazy Finns!

While the rest of the world…. well, while the West…. er… while the United States has come to it’s senses and has stopped molly-coddling criminals and has given up the utopian myth of rehabilitation, those crazy Finns are practically letting their criminals off scot free.

If I were President Bush, I would add them to the “axis of evil”. There is no greater threat to the American way of life than cool calm reason and enlightened self-interest. Damn them all! Damn them to hell!

You see, those crazy Finns have the lowest rate of incarceration in Europe. For every 100,000 people, they keep about 52 in jail! Fifty-two! By golly, the Americans know how to get rid of crime! They keep about 750 people in jail for the same 100,000 citizens. And it ought to be more, by golly, because we still have lots of crime out there in the streets.

And do you know what their prisons are like? Do they make up for the light sentences and the easy parole by exacting harsher punishments in shorter periods of time? Force labour?  Floggings?  Solitary confinement?  Not a chance! Their prisons are like dormitories, their guards are unarmed, and the the prisoners are sometimes referred to as “clients”.

Are they mad?

The Finns were not always so crazy. Back in the 1950’s, they were pretty well like everyone else in “civilized” Europe. But the crime rate was high and there was lots of prison violence and escapes and stuff. They didn’t like it. Do you know what the fools did? More of the same, like the Americans? No, no, no. They consulted the “experts”. Right. The eggheads. The nerds. Those pinko eastern liberal establishment types. And you know what they recommended? They recommended that the prison system be structured to rehabilitate rather than punish! God help us, Satan has taken over the government!

Naturally, the general population was outraged and demanded a return to capital punishment.

Well, no, they didn’t.

They said, okay, let’s try it. Fortunately the results proved the folly of their ways. The crime rate went down and the prison population went down and there was less violence in prison and fewer escapes. Wait a minute…

Even the Finns admit that their approach might not work in the U.S. For one thing, you have the victims of crimes who demand brutal retribution for offenses committed against them. Apparently those push-over Finns get compensated for crimes by the government, and kind of pathetically chill out, and seem to take the view that the long range health of their society is more important than any personal satisfaction to be gained by seeking revenge. Oh the godlessness of it all!

Let us hope that the Soviet Union (over 600 individuals imprisoned for every 100,000 population) invades them soon to knock a little sense into their crazy little heads. Unfortunately, it doesn’t appear to be likely that a vicious crime wave will come along and sweep the public up into a new frenzy of paranoia and hysteria. You see, it seems that the crime rate is way down. Rehabilitation seems to actually work.

Not as much fun as sending someone to prison for fifty years for stealing a box of cookies, is it?

We know one thing. The Finns must be godless, because it is the Christian Right that leads the charge for stiffer sentencing in the U.S. Something about someone’s traditional family values.

Or just hatred. I don’t know.

Danish incarceration rate: 52
American incarceration rate: 750
(per 100,000 population)

Heartless Merciless Bastards

The penalties also include a lifetime ban on receiving welfare or food stamps for those convicted of drug felonies, prohibitions against getting certain jobs in plumbing, education and other fields, and the loss of the right to vote, for life in some states. New York Times, December 28, 2002

In the 1990’s, the Christian government of the United States put its heart into getting “tough on crime”, because they loved everyone. One of the things they did was pass a law that deprives convicted criminals of access to social programs intended to help people trapped in the cycle of poverty and social dysfunction.

Well, who are they intended to help? I don’t know. The U.S. government often acts as if it should be a crime to be poor, period. But let’s think about this. Most robberies are committed by people who need money. Most people who need money are poor. If a poor person commits a crime, steals money, because, after all, they have none, then let’s make sure they are always poor.

Not that welfare amounts to anything that could be interpreted as helping anyone get out of poverty in the first place, of course. But the logic is clear. The way to get rid of poverty is not by sharing the fabulous wealth most of us possess, or by making it easier for the poor to access education and social services, but by making your life on earth as hellish as possible, and one of the things we can do to ensure that is to make sure that you will never get any help again if you steal once.

States can opt out of the lifetime ban on welfare, but only two, New York and Connecticut, have.

The law is the brainchild of former Senator Phil Gramm, now vice chairman of UBS Warbuck, the investment bank. Well, we knew he wasn’t going to join Habitat for Humanity after his little lucrative stay in the Senate. It’s payback time for Mr. Gramm. After years of passing laws that are monumentally beneficial to the rich and to corporate interests, the corporate interests have put him more directly on their payroll. And it’s probably cheaper for them than it was when they had to contribute to his election campaigns instead to keep him in servitude.

In many states, convicted felons are barred from jobs like plumbing, teaching, health care, or security. I’m not making this up. In Pennsylvania, theft of two library books is sufficient to ban you for life from working in a nursing home. A man who was convicted of possession of marijuana (and received probation) when he was 18 recently discovered that, after 30 years of working in the health care field, he could not get a new job in the same field because of that previous conviction.

This is because our leaders love Jesus.

“The consequences affect millions of Americans. Thirteen million felons who are in prison or have done their time live in the United States, according to an estimate by Christopher Uggen, a sociologist at the University of Minnesota. That is almost 7 percent of the adult population.”

[2011-03: that figure is now 10%]

The Decline of Violent Crime

In 1963, the City of New York had 25,500 police officers, and a murder rate of less than 600 a year. In the mid 1980s, the murder rate about 2,200 a year. Today, for the first time in almost 40 years, the murder rate will be below 600. The number of police officers: 38,000. The number of 911 calls on an average day: 1,000. What are the other 37,000 officers doing? I don’t know.

Nobody seems to know what’s going on. Why is there a huge decline in the murder rate? Did people become good? Have we executed enough criminals now that we are finally safe? Has all that harsh law and order finally started to have a beneficial effect?  Abortions?

The murder rate increased in connection with the widespread distribution of drugs. But drugs don’t cause crime. They don’t. Drugs cause people to waste their lives, and they cause people to do stupid things, and they are addictive, but there is no particular reason why someone using drugs would be more criminal-minded than, say, the CEO of Enron corporation.

But when drugs are illegal, and the cost to an addict increases to a preposterous amount, and the drug trade is hugely profitable because of the high prices caused by interdiction, crime will increase because of the illegality of drugs.

The truth is that drugs are not illegal in America. They are practically obligatory. Prozac, Lithium, Ritalin, Zoloft, Paxil– you name it, you need it. The difference is that some drugs are not patented. Like marijuana, hashish, opium, and cocaine. So drug companies cannot profit from them by providing exclusive access to them. So they must be illegal.

I’ve already made my arguments for legalizing drugs. What I’m concerned with here is that New York’s murder rate is down to about the lowest number it’s been in 40 years. So if you believe that the world is rapidly heading to hell in a hand basket, and that our morally bankrupt nation is sliding into a hellhole of perdition and depravity, you’ll have to explain why it doesn’t show up in the murder rate.

The NRA and Iraq

Does the NRA, and Charlton Heston, know what their lusty cohorts in the White House are doing in Iraq?

The NRA argues that every man, woman, and child in America should be armed. That’s the best way to ensure democracy and freedom. If the government starts regulating the possession of handguns, rifles, shotguns, and Uzi submachine guns, it will soon be able to take away our precious freedoms and liberties.

The U.S. government under George Bush is trying to do precisely that to Iraq. It is bursting into their “homes” and searching for weapons and it plans to take them away if it finds them.

The NRA says that just because guns are dangerous and are often used to commit felonies doesn’t mean that any citizen should have the slightest difficulty obtaining them. In other words, you can’t assume someone is going to do something illegal with a gun, the way you can assume someone is going to do something illegal with a blank CD or a minidisc.

But here you have George Bush acting as if Saddam Hussein doesn’t have the natural right as a citizen of the world to own a few nukes or chemical bombs.

My question is– what if Saddam, or somebody, persuaded the U.N. to send a weapons inspection team to the U.S., to see if they have anything that could hurt people around the world? Like mines, chemical weapons, nukes, artillery, and guns.

Ah– but we’re the good guys. Well, we are. But we’re not perfect. And who knows what kind of idiot might end up in the White House some day?

It doesn’t seem unreasonable to me that in a society that controlled access to guns, the police would still have access to them. That’s the special nature of their jobs. They have special authority. They’re supposed to keep us from hurting ourselves and each other.

So the U.S., it could be supposed, has to have nukes to make sure that the Saddam Husseins– and Charlton Hestons — of the world don’t go around bullying other people.

The trouble is that the U.S. sells mines and helicopters and bombers to other countries. Sometimes, through happenstance, we end up facing the barrels of our own guns.

Why doesn’t the NRA step up and put an end to this nonsense? Where is Charlton Heston when you really need him? He should be railing against the Bush administration! Chemical weapons don’t kill people– despots do! And when you criminalize the possession of nukes, only the tyrants will have nukes! Saddam Hussein should show up at the next NRA party– usually held in a nearby town after a mass shooting– and hold a nuclear bomb in his arms above his head and proclaim, “…from my cold dead fingers!”

I can’t even begin to explain North Korea or Iran in this context. Except that Iraq, of course, has the oil.

And that reminds me of what a famous outlaw, Willie Sutton, said when someone asked him why he robbed banks.

Because that’s where they keep the money.