On Prisons and Sentencing

I was reading this article about the sentencing of Norwegian mass-murder Anders Brevik. He was sentenced to the maximum possible penalty under Norwegian law: 21 years in prison. Every five years after that, he’ll be up for parole, but as long as he’s deemed to present a continued threat to society, he will remain in prison. This is an exceptional and unusual state of affairs for the Norwegian prison system.

I agree with the author of the article that this seems to be a fair sentence, and that the 21 year maximum likewise seems fair. That Brevik can then be sentenced to spend more time in five year increments also seems reasonably fair to me, especially given that it’s a very extraordinary thing to have happen under Norway’s laws. This, mind you, from a country that on that grim day last year lost a higher percentage of their population than we did on 9/11.

I also just read an article about how harsh punishment for prisoners makes them more likely, not less likely, to reoffend. A few seconds thought will indicate why this is the case, but if it doesn’t, allow me to go all Jesus and present you with “The Parable of the Cruel Master”.

Once there was a man who had a dog that bit him once. Since that time, he chained up that dog in a small cell, and spent a year feeding it poor quality food, isolating it from other dogs and from humans, and not allowing it to have any real chance to exercise. When, after that year was over, he relented and released the dog, it tore him to shreds. The man was surprised, though only briefly.

The message here is clear. Treat the least among you badly, and you have to expect them to react poorly. To that extent we need massive prison reform. We need to repurpose prisons as a place for reform (call them, oh, I don’t know, “reformatories”), and make them a place where people can come out better than they were when they went in. I know that sounds like silly liberal thinking, but I want you, gentle reader, to ponder this fact:

90% of the people in prison will some day be released from prison.

Given that fact, what do you want for the person who is released? Do you want someone who has been treated poorly, denied education, denied drug treatment, denied work training and goes into the world knowing only the skills they had when they went in? Skills which, I would point out, might be part of the reason they went to prison to begin with?

So keep that in mind as I outline what I would do to reform prisons.

For starters, I’d limit time in prison to people who committed violent crimes, and only to those people. And I’m talking actual violence here. Certain crimes that aren’t what you would consider “violent” in nature sometimes get classified as such by the system. So I’m talking about people who are stabby and shooty and the like. Non-violent offenders should be held in, at the worst, half-way house type facilities or, ideally, be put on house arrest. That saves the system quite a bit of money. Even if the state has to pay for food, utilities, and rent for someone’s apartment because they can’t find a job, that will still likely be cheaper than keeping them in prison.

The other important aspect here, aside from saving money, is that it would keep non-violent offenders away from violent ones. That decreases the odds of them being assaulted or raped, and lowers the odds of them learning violent behaviors. It also enables them to maintain roots within their community, spend time with their family, and continue to be productive while also paying their debt to society. The last parts of that should really appeal to conservatives out there, though somehow I don’t think they will.

Next, I’d improve the prison cells. For people who actually are in prison, the experience, especially in medium and maximum security, is exceptionally unpleasant. Prison doesn’t have to be a place of good times and parties, but there’s no need to make it worse than it has to be. Right now you have many situations where inmates are two or three to a cell that might have about 60 sq ft of floor space. I’d change that to allow only one person per cell, and make sure every cell is at least 8′ x 10′. If someone is stuck in a cell for 23 hours out of the day, we might as well make it reasonably comfortable. I’d also make sure every cell has a nice TV with full cable, though that’s more for the guards than the inmates. Believe me, there’s nothing guards want more than inmates sitting in their cells quietly watching TV all day.

I’d also allow plenty of creature comforts in the cells, especially for the inmates who are in them for almost the entire day. This sounds, I suppose, like coddling and such, but it really isn’t. It’s just compassion, and frankly, if Star Trek taught us anything, it taught us that it doesn’t matter how nice the prison is. If you can’t leave it, it’s still prison. Therefore going out of our way to make it miserable just doesn’t make sense.

Then I’d want full and complete educational and job training opportunities. If someone goes in for a ten or fifteen year sentence and hasn’t graduated high school, I’d offer them the chance to walk out the door with a Masters or Doctorate. It’s been proven time and again that the more education and job training someone has, the less likely they are to commit new crimes.

These are just some very bare-bones, basic ideas for how to deal with this issue. Like I said, bearing in mind that 90% of people currently in prison will someday be released, one would think our society would embrace these ideas and have at least some sense of self-interest in promoting them. One would think that, but given that we live ina country where people routinely vote against things like their class interest, I’m not going to hold my breath on this.


When is a Christian Not a Christian?

Not a true Christian.

When he’s Anders Breivik. He says he’s a Christian, and fundamentalist one at that. A “Christianist” as Andrew Sullivan calls him. But according to the Fox News crowd, he’s not a Christian, because Christians don’t go around shooting up people (well, unless they’re Scott Roeder), and detonating terrorist bombs (well, unless they’re Eric Rudolph). Actually, I’m inclined to agree with them. Anyone who goes around killing people is not a true Christian in the sense that they haven’t absorbed the whole “do unto others” and forgiveness thing. They’re especially not true Christians if they kill people in the name of Jesus. This applies not only to Breivik, Roeder and Rudolph, but also to historical terrorism as practiced and preached by many of the Popes, kings, queens, emperors, Crusaders and the like.

Not a true Muslim.

So I’ll agree and I’ll stop calling him a Christian, but only if the same people who get their panties in a bunch about people calling him a Christian also stop referring to terrorists like the ones who attacked us on 9/11 and hit London on 7/7 as “Muslims”. After all, they aren’t true Muslims. The Muslim faith preaches that Allah is all-compassionate and all-forgiving. It explicitly states you shouldn’t make war against the innocent. Saying that it’s ok to go around killing large numbers of people in the name is Islam is no more mainstream than it is to say that it’s ok to kill large numbers of people in the name of Christianity.

So if Breivik wasn’t a true Christian, that’s fine. But if that’s the case, then the various terrorists in the al-Qaeda vein aren’t true Muslims.

A Møøse Once Bit My Sister…

Or possibly not. This kid deserves to ding at least a couple times for this one.


Nice Norway

So Norway has built what it calls “the world’s most humane prison”. I read about it in Time. Well, on their website, anyhow.

It’s fascinating to see a country that actually gets it when it comes to how to treat criminals. They understand that treating them like animals and then letting them go only increases the chance of them coming back some day. Treating them decently and trying to help them makes it far less likely the criminals will return.

It’s a valuable lesson and one that I wish we’d learn here in the USA, particularly those of us in Maricopa County, Arizona, who have Sheriff Joe Arpaio to contend with. What a jackass he is. But he’s only in office because the ignorant electorate keep putting him there.

Oh, well. Prison reform is a vital and important thing and may happen during Obama’s second term, but ain’t gonna happen anytime soon. And one nitpick with that article I linked to: they make the point that the guards don’t carry guns and seem to treat that as unusual. No guards that interact with inmates in any prison are going to carry guns or any sort of weapon. Why arm your prisoners?


Torchwood Norway: Vi Forsvarer Jorda!

Apparently Torchwood’s Norwegian branch has been busy in the last couple days, defending us from the latest Slitheen incursion (damn you, Raxicoricofalipatorius!), as can be seen in this video:

Ok, so what is it really? It’s actually a failed Russian missile test.

There were some really ignorant people out there going on about this being something called Project Blue Beam or some alien invasion or what have you, but I’m pleased to see that the MSM actually stepped up and slapped this one down. Good job, guys!

(for a more detailed takedown, check out Badastronomy.com’s explanation)


“Mankind Older Than Previously Thought”

The August days must get long and boring in Norway.

Oh, and the title is a rather subtle joke describing the kind of stories that role down the pike in the month of August. Given my recent articles bitching about CNN, it seems fairly apt.