Friday, 20 August 2010

They walk among us

[Tracking] Devices such as the one I wore on my leg already allow tens of thousands of convicts to walk the streets relatively freely, impeded only by the knowledge that if they loiter by a schoolyard, say, or near the house of the ex-girlfriend they threatened, or on a street corner known for its crack trade, the law will come to find them. Compared with incarceration, the cost of such surveillance is minuscule—mere dollars per day—and monitoring has few of the hardening effects of time behind bars. Nor do all the innovations being developed depend on technology. Similar efforts to control criminals in the wild are under way in pilot programs that demand adherence to onerous parole guidelines, such as frequent, random drug testing, and that provide for immediate punishment if the parolees fail. The result is the same: convicts who might once have been in prison now walk among us unrecognized—like pod people, or Canadians.
From The Atlantic's rather nice feature on having convicts under monitoring rather than in prison.

I'm of two minds on this. Conditional on no changes to the incarceration system, I favour it. It reduces costs on both the system and the offender. But, the costs of incarceration are one part of the equilibrium - if convicting lots of folks for victimless crimes winds up being really expensive for the state, then they might think about legalizing drugs, prostitution and gambling. If convicting folks imposes only costs on the convicts and few costs on the state, that push is gone.

And if you didn't get the line about Canadians at the end, ....

1 comment:

  1. "Think of your children pledging allegiance to the maple leaf. Mayonnaise on everything. Winter 11 months of the year. Anne Murray - all day, every day."

    Hmmm... the last bit sounds suspiciously like my childhood, although I'm pretty sure I suffered no long term effects :)