Florida's Prison Rate is 7th Highest in U.S., Beating Out Most of Planet Earth

starfish.jpgFor many years, I owned a commercial recording facility. After recording and mastering a zillion albums, I learned that one of the toughest parts of this artistic process is convincing the artist that their recording had "too much" of something in it. Dr. Dre used to say that he would spend countless hours agonizing over what to take out of a song--not what to add. Do I take out that hi hat? Take out that bass line? Take out that extra layer of vocals? Take out the last verse? To succeed, Dr. Dre understood that he needed to fight the human urge which tells us more is better.

When it comes to the art of managing human beings, sometimes less is more. Dr. Dre's approach to his art is much needed in political science. BTW, the label political "science" bothers me--there's nothing scientific about it, it seems more like an art.

I'll be the first to tell you we have too many crimes on the books (a shocking revelation from a criminal defense attorney, right?) Our legislative bodies in Washington and Tallahassee have become much like that co-worker who has mastered the art of busy work--not accomplishing anything, not adding any value to the organization, yet still maintaining an appearance of working hard. If our government really wants to do some hard work, try eliminating some laws. Try lowering the penalties for failing to register as a sex offender, possessing of child pornography, or trafficking in oxycodone. Try reducing the prison sentences of those who are no harm to society. Try getting rid of government entities that are inefficient. That's hard work, and it's not getting done. It's far easier to simply get together, vote to spend more money than last year, then go home. That's easy.

Can you tell me why a drug addict caught with 10 oxycodone pills faces mandatory prison time as a drug trafficker, yet a person who is convicted of beating his wife for a second time (battery with a prior battery conviction is a felony) faces no mandatory prison time? I'm not a fan of mandatory time, period, but why are drug addicts punished more harshly than violent offenders? Mandatory minimum prison sentences place the sentencing decision in the hands of the legislaturerather than with the judge, where it should be. Floridians need to take a closer look at the ridiculous sentences handed out to citizens who possess child porn, and reduce these sentences. And while they're at it, mandatory prison time for having a drug problem needs to be fixed as well. It would be far cheaper to treat citizens for their drug addiction, rather than sending them to an expensive prison system--only to be released with the same problems they went into prison with.

Which brings me to my point: the United States is the world's leading jailer, with Russia coming in a distant second. World Prison Population List, 8th Edition, by Roy Walmsley. The State of Florida ranks 7th in the United States, with 557 prisoners per 100,000 citizens. United States Bureau of Justice Statistics, "Prisoners in 2008". Isn't that embarrassing? Isn't it amazing that some folks will argue for less government, yet ignore all the money spent on lengthy prison sentences? The lowest rate of incarceration is Maine, the next lowest is Minnesota. Can it be argued that these places, somehow, are less safe than Florida because they don't put enough people in prison? Ever hear anybody complain about the crime rate in Maine? (I suppose an argument could be made regarding the effects of climate and temperature on crime rates--but that's a topic for another day)

Too many laws. Too much prison time.

If you watch the news, maybe you've caught the reports about millions of starfish washing up on our beaches, reasons unknown. The news crew fixes their camera on a cute little girl trying to save the starfish, one at a time, by throwing them back into the ocean. Given this pace, it would take her years to save all these starfish. The girl is about to throw another starfish back into the ocean when a reporter approaches: "Wow, there are so many starfish out here to be saved, you can't help them all back into the ocean!" The girl shows the camera the one in her hand and says "well, I can help this one."

photo by Jan Willem Geertsma