Jesus Saves… $75 Dollars a Day Plus Jail Time

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Tod Kelly

Tod is a writer from the Pacific Northwest. He is also serves as Executive Producer and host of both the 7 Deadly Sins Show at Portland's historic Mission Theatre and 7DS: Pants On Fire! at the White Eagle Hotel & Saloon. He is  a regular inactive for Marie Claire International and the Daily Beast, and is currently writing a book on the sudden rise of exorcisms in the United States. Follow him on Twitter.

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43 Responses

  1. Avatar mclaren says:

    In fact, the solution appears simple: eliminate most of the so-called “crimes” on the books in America.

    Evidence shows that the vast majority of people in American prisons are there because of so-called “blue laws.” Not violent felonies, but non-crimes like “possession of a controlled substance,” “inadequate paperwork for importing orchids,” “child pornography,” and so on.

    Of course my statement is bizarre and ludicrous and cannot be taken seriously. And proof seems clear: for example, the Economist article “Too many laws, too many prisoners,” 22 July 2010.

    THREE pickup trucks pulled up outside George Norris’s home in Spring, Texas. Six armed police in flak jackets jumped out. Thinking they must have come to the wrong place, Mr Norris opened his front door, and was startled to be shoved against a wall and frisked for weapons. He was forced into a chair for four hours while officers ransacked his house. They pulled out drawers, rifled through papers, dumped things on the floor and eventually loaded 37 boxes of Mr Norris’s possessions onto their pickups. They refused to tell him what he had done wrong. “It wasn’t fun, I can tell you that,” he recalls.

    Mr Norris was 65 years old at the time, and a collector of orchids. He eventually discovered that he was suspected of smuggling the flowers into America, an offence under the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species. This came as a shock. He did indeed import flowers and sell them to other orchid-lovers. And it was true that his suppliers in Latin America were sometimes sloppy about their paperwork. In a shipment of many similar-looking plants, it was rare for each permit to match each orchid precisely.

    In March 2004, five months after the raid, Mr Norris was indicted, handcuffed and thrown into a cell with a suspected murderer and two suspected drug-dealers. When told why he was there, “they thought it hilarious.” One asked: “What do you do with these things? Smoke ’em?”

    Teenage kids are now being arrested and charged with felonies as sexual predators and child molesters for taking nude pictures of themselves and sending ’em to their teenage boyfriends or girlfriends on cellphones. (Yes, a girl is now charged with sexually molesting herself for sending her boyfriend a nude picture of herself.)

    While it may be shocking, the practice of “sexting” – sending nude pictures via text message – is not unusual, especially for high schoolers around the country.

    This week, three teenage girls who allegedly sent nude or semi-nude cell phone pictures of themselves, and three male classmates in a western Pennsylvania high school who received them, are charged with child pornography.

    Source: “Sexting” shockingly common among teens, CBS News, 11 Feburary 2009.

    Now we have 6-year-olds handcuffed for “talking in class.”

    America has completely lost any vestige of common sense. Behavior which any reasonable person recognizes as completely ordinary and normal and typical has now been felonized with massive mandatory minimum sentences and insane lifetime registration requirements.Report

    • Avatar wardsmith says:

      America has completely lost any vestige of common sense. Behavior which any reasonable person recognizes as completely ordinary and normal and typical has now been felonized with massive mandatory minimum sentences and insane lifetime registration requirementscause of course we wouldn’t want these folks VOTING now would we?Report

      • Avatar wardsmith says:

        America has completely lost any vestige of common sense. Behavior which any reasonable person recognizes as completely ordinary and normal and typical has now been felonized with massive mandatory minimum sentences and insane lifetime registration requirements

        cause of course we wouldn’t want these folks VOTING now would we?

        damn I wish this site had editing capabilitiesReport

  2. Avatar Patrick Cahalan says:

    Headdesk.Report

  3. Avatar Michael Cain says:

    “And the thought of some 19-year-old that got caught with a joint not having to spend 18 months behind bars is an unqualified win in my book.”

    I’m seriously curious about where in the US possession of a joint gets someone 18 months. Is my (purple) state that unusual? Here, less than two ounces is a petty crime with a maximum $100 fine and no possibility of jail time. As a reference, a standard cigarette has less than a gram of tobacco; 28.3 or so grams per ounce; you’ve got to be carrying quite a bit to get out of the petty crime category.Report

  4. Avatar Tom Van Dyke says:

    This one was worth it just for the title. WD.Report

  5. Avatar Jaybird says:

    The term “penitentiary” has an interesting etymology.

    Here’s from the wik:

    From Medieval Latin penitentiaria (“place of penitence”), term used by the Quakers in Pennsylvania during the 1790s, describing a place for penitents to dwell upon their sins.Report

    • Avatar wardsmith says:

      Jaybird, you never cease to amaze meReport

      • Avatar Jaybird says:

        “If you don’t have anything insightful to say, go for the etymology of the term being discussed.”

        One of my professors told me that.Report

        • Avatar Tom Van Dyke says:

          Eastern State Penitentiary. Very creepy place. Al Capone “repented” there.

          http://missioncreep.com/mw/estate.htmlReport

          • Avatar Mike Schilling says:

            A 1929 newspaper article described Capone’s cell: “The whole room was suffused in the glow of a desk lamp which stood on a polished desk…. On the once-grim walls of the penal chamber hung tasteful paintings, and the strains of a waltz were being emitted by a powerful cabinet radio receiver of handsome design and fine finish.”

            Sounds like Snoopy’s doghouse.Report

        • Avatar Tod Kelly says:

          Your talk of your professor can’t help but remind me that the very word comes from the Greek profitieri, meaning “lay claim to, declare openly” – much like you just did regarding your etymology inclination origins.

          hmmm….

          No, wordsmith is right. You’re much better at stuff like this.Report

    • Avatar BSK says:

      Jaybird actually touches on something a professor of mine discussed in a course on Christian responses to justice.

      Anyway, he talked about the evolving language used around the prison system and how this signified the supposed intent of the facility. Penitentiary was used as Jaybird described. A correctional facility was intended to correct behavior or rehabilitate. A detention center is meant to detain. I’d be curious to see when these different terms came into vogue and what the political and social scene was like as our vocabulary evolved.Report

      • Avatar Jaybird says:

        Another focus that may or may not be worth a dang is the courtroom thriller kinda television show.

        Perry Mason (or Matlock, I guess) was a show about the defense and, indeed, about innocent people who got framed and then caught by the law. Law and Order was about guilty people and the process the cops use to catch these people and the process the courts use to throw them in jail.

        Which shows do well is supposed to reflect society’s mood about where there needs to be more focus by the authorities. In theory.Report

      • Avatar James Hanley says:

        A correctional facility was intended to correct behavior or rehabilitate. A detention center is meant to detain.

        “Prison” is sounding gloomier and gloomier.Report

  6. Avatar BSK says:

    Assuming these laws stay on the books (I agree that most, if not all, shouldn’t be), I’m okay with a plan that allows for supervised mentoring in lieu of jail time. I am bothered by the notion that this be restricted to Christian churches, since it A) is essentially a non-option for non-Christians and B) it wrongly implies that Christian churches alone are capable of mentoring in this way.

    But, yea, it’d be great if they said, “Hey, kid, you fucked up. We’re going to have you work with someone who’ll help you make better choices and, if you get your shit together, we’ll be done with this.” The biggest issue in many of these cases, particularly with young “offenders” is poor judgment. Rather than telling them not to do drugs (which is a decision they’ll ultimately make for themselves regardless of what we tell them), talk to them about being a little smarter with their decisions. Don’t smoke in a car parked in the middle of an empty parking lot with your lights on. Etc.Report

    • Avatar Tod Kelly says:

      I think this gets to the heart of it for me. It was so close to being a great success story, and now it’s a lawsuit waiting to happen.

      Plus, I worry that the system in Bay Minette might decide that good old fashioned prayer is more important than, say, substance abuse treatment or anger management counseling.Report

      • Avatar BSK says:

        Great point in your second paragraph there. Churches are capable of doing a lot of good. But it is generally because of other things they offer that incidental or otherwise not ancillary to the faith itself.Report

    • Avatar David Cheatham says:

      Rather than telling them not to do drugs (which is a decision they’ll ultimately make for themselves regardless of what we tell them), talk to them about being a little smarter with their decisions. Don’t smoke in a car parked in the middle of an empty parking lot with your lights on.

      You’d be amazed at how well that doesn’t work.

      I know someone who is addicted to alcohol. They get arrested for DUIs. They’ve also been arrested for pot possession…because they had it in public and were also drinking in their (parked) vehicle. (That got throw out. Can’t charge people with violating open container laws by drinking in the back of a turned-off pickup, and hence cannot legally search their pickup to find the pot. I don’t know what sort of stupid cop that was.)

      Seriously, I’ve tried to talk to him, saying ‘Look, you have a problem with addiction, and that sucks, it really does. I would wish that you would get help for it…but if you don’t, can you at least stop getting arrested for it? Go buy booze, go buy pot, smoke it in the safety of your own property, and don’t go to jail? It would be a fuckload _cheaper_, and as a bonus, I would not have bail you out of jail.’

      It does not appear to work. (Or, rather, it appears to work…until he’s arrested again. I do not bail him out anymore.)

      When I commit crimes, I commit them in private, and feel no shame. When I do commit crimes in public, I make very sure of what the legality of everything I’m doing is. (I.e., I don’t speed with drugs in the car, not that I do drugs.)

      But apparently part of having an addictive personality is making very bad choices about that addiction. Logically, alcoholism shouldn’t be related to DUIs…people who are alcoholic should know they’re going to get drunk, and thus be less likely to plan to drink. And should drink enough that they purchase in ways other than bars, anyway. It’s the people who are not paying attention and get drunk that should be doing the DUIs.

      However, this is not even slightly correct.Report

    • Avatar Katherine says:

      While I support this in principle, the last line is problematic – I don’t see any judicial system going for a system in which mentors effectively teach offenders to be more effective at breaking the law without getting caught.Report

  7. Avatar JG New says:

    I see a significant, probably insurmountable, constitutional problem here. This practice seems to pose a real Establishment Clause issue. The state is directly encouraging the practice of religion by using a carrot-and-stick approach: go to church or go to prison. Specifically, the statute seems to fail the second element of the test the the Supreme Court devised in Lemon v. Kurtzman, viz., “the government’s action must not have the primary effect of either advancing or inhibiting religion.” Here the state actor is coercing an offender to attend church as a means of avoiding prison. And it’s not relevant that the option appears to be open only to Christians in this instance – even if a mosque/synagogue/etc., were available: might not a principled atheist feel coerced to attend a religious service once a week as opposed to sitting in a cell?

    I don’t think this one can pass constitutional muster.Report

    • Avatar Tod Kelly says:

      Agreed. As I said above to BSK, “It was so close to being a great success story, and now it’s a lawsuit waiting to happen.”Report

    • Avatar Jason Kuznicki says:

      It seems obviously unconstitutional to me as well. Added to that, I’d doubt the program’s effectiveness, even if it were allowed to continue. On the social level, religious faith correlates strongly with murder, other crimes, abortion, and suicide.

      Now, it might be that the victims of various crimes turn to religion, not the perpetrators. It might be all kinds of other things. But if there is evidence in the other direction, I’m not aware of it.Report

      • Avatar Tom Van Dyke says:

        That’s not much of a study to tout, Mr. Kuznicki. The guy draws dinosaurs for a living and has a history of published animus against creationists. Further, the “study” is published in an online-only journal, and is not even a product of “the academy,” since the author appears not to have graduated community college.

        The methodology is crude to the point of intellectual brutality, since it grabs general stats like Gallup polls and attempts to make sweeping claims about ‘religion” without any further penetration of the actual religious beliefs of actual murderers, suicides, etc.

        Neither is the United States easily statistically compared with the more secular European paradises: social pathologies vary widely by ethnicity, for instance, and no attempt was made by the author to compare apples to apples.

        The Guardian may be impressed, but normal people should not be.Report

        • Avatar Tod Kelly says:

          I thought it was from Creighton?Report

          • Avatar Tom Van Dyke says:

            Actually it’s the “Kripke Center” @ Creighton, a voluntary, not an official arm of Creighton. Even if it were “official,” the religion dept. is not necessarily qualified to evaluate social science methodology.

            Basically, the “study” is some guy with an agenda making broad sociological claims with the data equivalent of stone knives and bearskins.

            This isn’t to say he’s wrong, but the thesis requires far more support than that.Report

        • Avatar ThatPirateGuy says:

          Published animus against creationists is something to considered in ones favor. I mean they are as respectable as flat earthers.Report

        • Avatar Jason Kuznicki says:

          That’s not much of a study to tout…

          …which is why I am not, in most reasonable senses of the word, “touting” it. Relevantly:

          “[T]o solicit, peddle, or persuade importunately… to make much of…”

          Unless, of course, one’s definition of “much” includes a single blog comment.Report

    • Avatar Tom Van Dyke says:

      For the record, @ Unitarian Universalist churches, belief in God is optional, so that may slip the “equal protection” or even Lemon noose.Report

      • Avatar Kimmi says:

        still about religion. be the same if you were going to some Jewish temples.Report

      • Avatar Jason Kuznicki says:

        Neither the Equal Protection clause nor the Lemon test as usually stated make any mention of God.Report

        • Avatar Tom Van Dyke says:

          We use Alcoholics Anonymous, which acknowledges a “higher power,” as a diversion program. Non-governmental society has assets, and it would be ideology, not pragmatism, to defy common sense and refuse to tap them.

          What we’re into here is the social utility of religion [or simple theism], not truth claims. The “study” you mention, Jason, claims to refute its social utility. Although I offered a rebuttal to that particular study, still at question per Lemon in this case is religion’s social utility.

          And indeed the nebulous quality of Unitarian Universalism serves well to obviate any “establishment” question, since in UUism, absolutely nothing is established by creed or dogma, not even the existence of God Hisself. The use of Alcoholics Anonymous as a diversion program seems far more vulnerable on this point.

          Come to think of it, AA will probably get the bullseye someday.Report

          • Avatar Kimmi says:

            … I hope not. addictive personalities need Something to get addicted to. Why not G-d? Won’t kill ’em as fast as meth, I’m pretty sure.Report

  8. Avatar David Cheatham says:

    As I’ve mentioned before, there’s a much cheaper way to make sure that people don’t commit crimes. Give them GPS anklets, and simply compare their location against any crimes reported. A GPS anklet costs about $10 a day. (I’m not sure where that number comes from.)

    Car stolen? Check the database for criminals there.

    Of course, this only helps with _reported_ crimes, and not, for example, victimless crimes. But I think we all know the standard answer as to what to do about _those_.

    And, um, there’s another ‘religion freedom’ concept violated by this nonsense. Not only do they have to be ‘Christian’, but their freedom is entirely based on saying on the ‘good side’ of a pastor.

    So we could, in theory, send someone back to jail who got a real honest job, is staying away from his criminal associates, is saving up to go to trade school and get his degree in air conditioning repair, and has refrained from committing any crimes… because he decided to move in with his girlfriend. Or, worse, his boyfriend.

    Even ignore the whole ‘What about non-Christians?’ question, I’m not entirely sure that giving religious leaders the power to judge and thus imprison people is even slightly sane.

    Or what if he starts denying the trinity and insisting Jesus was merely a mortal man, and the preacher goes ‘Fine, whatever, you’re going back to jail.’ I mean, we could be imprisoning people because of actual religion heresy. Wow. It’s hard to come up with a more misguided policy.Report

  9. Avatar Katherine says:

    There have been some major successes by Christians doing prison outreach work, so I wouldn’t discount the idea that religion can be a powerful force for rehabilitation.

    But I agree, this is definitively not the way to go about it. Attending church services says nothing about whether faith is actually having an impact on your life. And requiring someone to attend them is likely to have a negative impact rather than a positive one, because you’re treating church as a punishment, akin to picking up trash by the highway.Report

    • Avatar Tod Kelly says:

      What a great comment. This part had never occurred to me: “And requiring someone to attend them is likely to have a negative impact rather than a positive one, because you’re treating church as a punishment, akin to picking up trash by the highway.”Report