Sunday, December 6, 2009

A Modest Proposal: Solving the Twin Problems of Capital Punishment and Prison Overcrowding

This is an idea that has bouncing around in my mind for several years. I am certain that it will not be palatable to either political conservatives or political liberals. Both sides would lose too many friends (not to mention constituents) should this idea become reality. It's just too far-fetched for anybody to take it seriously.

Having said that, let me beg your indulgence for a few minutes - for as long as it takes you to read this entry, scratch your head and say "Whaaat?", and then reread it to make sure you weren't mistaken.

For decades now, the individual states that make up the United States of America have been struggling with the issue of capital punishment. The debate will continue for decades more. I do not wish to discuss its merits or drawbacks here, nor the rationale for its continuation or its abolition. Wiser people than I have written entire books about the issue. For now, I want to carve out a little, tiny piece of the argument in favor, the part that says that execution of criminals allows us to rid society of these dangerous and damaging elements. (Reword that any way you like, and be happy with it. Then let's move on.)

Other nations have also struggled with this issue. Period. Let's not step into those waters, okay?

The U.S. and other countries have also struggled with the issue of prison overcrowding. The local county sheriff has at times had to free some of the more lightweight criminals who have been tried and convicted by the courts in order to make room for the ones who really do need to be removed from society, for society's own safety. The fact is that this nation's courts are putting people behind bars faster than the nation can build prison beds to accommodate them. The nation's taxpayers and their representatives are demanding tougher sentences for criminal offenders, but somebody forgot to make a place for them all.

According to the monthly report available at our state Department of Corrections website (find your own!), our state prisons had almost 15,000 beds in November 2009, with a total state population of around 5,000,000 residents. That's 3 beds (or inmates, if you prefer) for every 1000 residents.

But the state Dept. of C. was in charge of 22,000 convicted criminals in that same month, meaning that 7000 of them had to go elsewhere or go free.

Here's how my proposal works.

1) First, you set a maximum inmate-to-resident ratio. That ratio of 3 to 1000 sounds like a good place to start. Ignore the question of "legal" vs. "illegal" residents. Just use whatever number the U.S. Census gives you.

2) Second, you only build the number of prison beds allowed by the inmate ratio. If your state population grows, then you can expand the prison capacity -- and if your state shrinks (Hello Michigan, anybody home? Helloooooooo...), then you demolish or inactivate some prison capacity.

3) Now, you have a panel of judges review the sentences of all the existing prisoners and rank them in order, from who deserves the most to live (litterbugs and parking-ticket scofflaws, for example ) to who deserves the least to live (serial killers, abusers of the innocent, people who drive less than 65 mi/hr in the fast lane on I-25 and won't move over, people who never use their turn signals, and people who talk too loudly on their cellphones in inappropriate places, for example -- okay, maybe only the first two).

Everybody gets a rank number. Currently, according to our state Department of Corrections website, there are currently over 22,000 offenders in a system designed to handle just under 15,000.

4) Once everybody gets a rank number, you take everybody with a number greater than 15,000 and you execute them.

Congratulations! This takes care of today's overcrowding problem, and it reduces the question of capital punishment to one of space utilization, nothing more. I'll leave the details and the logistics of the body disposal for the bureaucrats to figure out.

5) Now you have 15,000 beds and 15,000 inmates with numbers of merit, or rank numbers, from 1 to 15,000. The next time somebody is convicted of a crime, the judge has to decide where to put the convicted criminal in the list of 15,000. Say it's someone who ran a chop shop in Aurora and was convicted on 178 counts of grand theft auto and interstate transportation of stolen property. That's pretty serious, so the judge assigns him the number 12,000. That means that everybody with a number of 12,000 or more has a new number, one number higher. What do you do with the poor guy who's now 15,001? Bang! Bye-bye!

The beauty of this system is it always gets rid of the ones who have done the least to merit society's forgiveness, or who would do the most damage to society if they were released to walk the streets again. Eventually you've killed off all the really bad guys, and your 15,000 beds are full of petty thieves and crooked politicians. Whenever a new really bad guy hits the court system, he's almost automatically guaranteed the 15,001st slot, and so out the door he goes. So in the end, society has rid itself of all the terribly bad guys, and all that's left are 15,000 beds full of jaywalkers and pencil embezzlers.

I dunno; I think it's a good idea. But it will never fly.

Note to would-be commenters: all comments on this blog are moderated. If you are a raving loon, forget about it and move along.

Note to would-be plagiarizers and copycats: everybody knows they read it here first. If you insist on copying this without attribution, or representing it as your own work, you're well on your way to occupying bed #15,000.


Jamie said...

Sorry, I know you were trying to be somewhat serious, but that was funny!! ROFL You are so smart! Maybe we should make you the next president?

Zyzmog said...

Actually, I have a hard time articulating the proposal with a straight face. I would be frightened if someone did take it seriously and decided to turn it into reality. I'm glad you thought it was funny.