James Leroy Wilson's blog

Tuesday, June 16, 2009

Trying to understand the mind of the prosecutor

Football player Plaxico Burress's case has been delayed, probably until 2010, which will allow him to play football. It is still expected that he'll eventually serve jail time.

I don't agree that what Burress did should be a crime at all, and believe he shouldn't be prosecuted. Besides that, what is striking is:
  • The maximum fine under this law, and any compensatory damages, would have been the cheapest way out for the State of New York.
  • There is no evidence that Burress had violent intent against anyone, and indeed did not hurt anyone else.
  • Due to the costs Burress has already paid for his mishap, he should have had is "wake up call" already and jail won't do any good. Jails tend not to rehabilitate people. There are two kinds of reckless people who get in this situation: those who "wake up" and rehabilitate themselves at the first sign of trouble, and those who never "wake up" despite one or more trips to jail. I don't know which way Burress falls, but jail won't make a difference. If he hasn't woken up now, jail could just as easily make him worse.
Why, then, does Mayor Bloomberg and the D.A. office insist on jail time for Plaxico?

Probably for the same reason prosecutors in other cases add count after unnecessary count in order to extract a plea deal and guarantee jail time.

They don't care for justice in the individual case. Imprisonment isn't a particularly just punishment. It adds cost to the taxpayers, it doesn't compensate victims, it doesn't rehabilitate, and its usually temporary, meaning that most prisoners, even violent ones, will be released at some point in the future.

The one thing jails and prisons have going for them is that they are absolutely dreadful places. For me, there are some illegal things I know are wrong and would think I would never do, like commit violence. There are other things I wouldn't do whether they are legal or not. There are some things I might do, or at least try, if they were legal.

I don't do them, not because conscience bounds me to obey stupid and unjust laws, but because I don't want to go to jail.

For me, jail is a deterrent. The more prosecutors cram the jails and prisons with more people, the more they scare the rest of us into compliance.

It's one of the more brutal and inefficient ways to maintain "law and order." It seems to me that a system where victimless crimes are repealed and, in violent crimes, perpetrators are made to compensate victims through work, would lead to more efficient enforcement, a safe society, just outcomes and the best chance at genuine rehabilitation of the criminal.

But I do see the logic in the heavy-handed methods of prosecutors. In our flawed, broken system, the use as jail/prison as deterrence is the one tool they have to "get tough" on crime. It still doesn't make it right.


  1. If real justice happened, thousands of people would be out of work. Can't let that happen, no sir.

  2. I think many prosecutors are "just doing their job" to get a paycheck. Most probably think they're doing society a great service by doing what's "right" and don't understand the effects of incarceration.