To the Editor:
It bothers me that we put in prison people who present no harm to anyone other than those who choose to engage in non-violent activities that are free of deception.
The drug dealer and the prostitute present offers with well-known risks, so to describe their adult patrons as victims, and they as criminals, takes liberty with those concepts. Couldn’t we incarcerate the executives of fast food operations that sell fatty food to fat people under the same premise?
The codification of sin is a poor use of state resources. It invites arbitrary, subjective policies of what is right and wrong, and experience shows such laws are applied unevenly.
Locking up people doing things the majority do not approve has turned over time into locking up people the majority do not approve of, regardless of the fact that they are acting little different from the majority.
The legal system has been careful to spare white middle class and above much jail time in our war on drugs, while focusing on the poorly defended, meting out stiff sentences and putting the prosecuted in a legal status akin to a caste system. Ex-cons don’t interview well because they never get the chance. When you book someone on a felony charge, you are closing the book on their employability.
It may be too great a political journey for the defenders of society against the evils of vice to abandon our legal prohibitions against narcotics and prostitution. I do not want my children to be engaged in either. But it is not appropriate to address these social ills by locking people in prison. There are more effective ways of steering people clear of unwanted activities than depriving some of their liberty in the hope that others will respond with fear.
The cruelty of incarcerating our most powerless neighbors is unworthy of a proud republic. If we cannot fully accept these activities as permissible under the law, other interventions will do more to decrease their incidence than throwing perpetrators in jail. There are two paths that cost society about the same: prison and Princeton.
Our general fund affords carte blanche to the former, but the latter, less travelled road is not nearly as well supported.
People who are not a danger to others have no place in a prison. It is cheaper to put them through school, or create a job for them, or put then first on a drug use surveillance regime than to house them behind barbed wire. Locking up people who we do not like is one of our nation’s worst habits. Moral condescension paired with a rigorous police state is anathema to civil society.
On Martin Luther King Day, I am praying for a day when we do more for our poor than to find ways to put them in jail.
John Kilian, Middletown