Crime and Punishment

By | July 6, 2007

The New York Times reported that the senior official in charge of their Food and Drug oversight was sentenced to death for corruption. In America, Scooter Libby was sentenced to 3 years in prison for leaking the name of Valerie Plame to the press, a treasonable offense. He was then let off the prison hook by President Bush and will have no significant change in his lifestyle.

The question is: Which system works better? Both are highly flawed. Corruption is bad, but a death sentence? That seems harsh. Also, Scooter’s crime was bad too, but no punishment at all? Come on, there has to be some middle ground. Why is it all or nothing? Why can’t government officials and other white-collar criminals be punished fairly, neither too lightly nor too harshly?

I am still sick of all of our prisons being filled with drop-possession offenders. We have a prison space issue. Almost all of the drug-possession criminals behind bars are poor black men. We are not doing society any favors by locking these men up. They just harden in prison and become dangerous.

A woman on the radio said something which really surprised me. She was talking about Scooter Libby. She said that we should lock people up that we are afraid of, not people we are mad at. I thought this was incredibly stupid, but also very revealing. Does this mean we shouldn’t lock up any white-collar criminals? How do we really deter white-collar crimes then? Should Milken have been let go? Should Nixon? Should Gordon Gecko? And locking people up that we are afraid of… Does she mean she is afraid of violent criminals or just of young black men. I tend to think the latter. Fear is driving our crime and punishment system, deep down.

I wonder, what the psychological motivation is for the death sentences? Are they mad or afraid? Which is better? Both systems need alot of work.

4 thoughts on “Crime and Punishment

  1. musetracks

    At the risk of oversimplification, I’d like to see us start with a philosophy of minimizing – or even eliminating – crimes whose primary victim is the perpetrator (yep, I said “perpetrator”) him/herself.

    Drug possession is bad, but users are primarily hurting themselves. There are folks on the periphery of that hurt, but there’s only so much bandwidth. Drug possession with the intent to distribute is bad and the potential victims are varied and the ripple-effect is vast. Driving under the influence of drugs is bad, the potential victims are others and the severity of damage caused to the victims is could be catastrophic. That makes it very bad, indeed.

    Given that philosophy as a starting point, it seems to me that reasonable adults can apply some level of common sense to a case-by-case assessment of current statutes.

    Of course there are a lot of normative assumptions being applied here, so my own cynicism overrides any potential for optimism. 🙂

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  2. rachel

    The food safety issues in China are terribly, horribly bad. As in, so bad that if you use the wrong product, it can kill you — not 20 years from now, but now. Here’s a compendium of some reporting on the subject:

    http://litbrit.blogspot.com/2007/05/on-poisoned-food-and-toxic-planet.html

    The death penalty for the guy who is supposed to be in charge of fixing the situation? Maybe a bit extreme, but then again, maybe not.

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  3. danlipka

    So many typos, I could have wrote that. Anyway, I think the criminal system is this country is horrid. White collar crimes should have longer sentences. A public official who takes brides should be sent to Afghanistan to build roads for the rest of their lives. All prisoners should provide a public service, I don’t care if they are picking up litter, planting trees, or finding internet perverts. As for drugs, as long as Alcohol is legal than outlawing any other drug is just hypocritical. Alcohol causes millions of deaths, abuse, lost productivity, and countless billions out of the economy. I am of the ilk that alcohol should be systematically eliminated as all costs. Start slowly by banning bacardi 151 and work your way down the alcohol chain. And just because it didn’t work, under a horrible plan with no resources, 100 years ago, doesn’t mean we can’t do it now. However, drug use offenders (who committed no other crime) should not go a regular prison. A judge should either send them to rehab or just keep fining them. Any drug, under the use of a responsible person is not very dangerous; however, some drugs make it very hard for someone to be responsible, and those are the bad ones. Anyway, from a pure economic standpoint, limiting drug use and the number of people is prison is good. Fror a human standpoint, limiting both is good as well.

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  4. tomq

    Actually, Scooter Libby was not convicted of revealing the name of a Covert CIA Operative, he was convicted of perjury and obstruction of justice for misleading law enforcement agencies seeking to ascertain who had leaked the information about Ms. Plame.

    The person who actually leaked Ms. Plame’s name to Robert Novak was Deputy Secretary of State Richard Armitage, a Clinton appointee and who was not an Iraq war supporter. Armitage was not indicted because the statute prohibiting the disclosure of an intelligence agent’s identity was not violated.

    “Neither Robert Novak nor Richard Armitage was ever prosecuted in this matter, although Novak had published the material and Armitage had provided the information to him. The law is, apparently, extremely technical and proved too difficult to apply to either Novak or Armitage”

    http://www.realclearpolitics.com/articles/2007/07/its_only_fair_to_commute_libby.html

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