Thursday, February 18, 2010

We've Always Got Money For Political Grandstanding

One point I always try to get across to my students is that our laws and criminal justice priorities usually have less to do with stopping the most dangerous crimes or offering citizens the most protection, but instead tend to be more abut what is politically popular or in the interests of those who create the rules.

Pedophiles are one of the best examples of this. Obviously, the sexual abuse of children is a horrible crime with often devastating consequences for those victimized. But what we do to pedophiles surpasses the harsh treatment of pretty much every other criminal.

Think about it -- people convicted of sex crimes have to register their homes, cars, employers, and often daily activities with the authorities. Though laws vary state-by-state, in most places they are required to actively identify their homes and vehicles as being used by a convicted sex offender. Many places make them take out ads in the paper announcing their arrival and even appear in front of the community at large events to out themselves and have scorn and abuse heaped on them. They usually can't live within a mile of where children gather, leading to the infamous cases like Miami where the only place sex offenders can legally live is literally under a bridge.

This is in no way to defend the actions of sex offenders or to argue that they're sympathetic characters; it's just to point out how harshly we treat them. Think about it -- we don't make murders do any of that, and I would argue they're at least as potentially dangerous as are sex offenders.

Well, with Minnesota's latest budget, you can see this over-the-top response in action. While facing a massive budget shortfall and gashing important social services, Tim "I Want To Be President Real, Real Bad" Pawlenty proposes throwing away $89 million on a facility to house sex offenders. As the article linked to points out, even if such facilities were effective (which research has found they really aren't) this would still only impact about 3% of the states sex offenders.

But it will pass, I can almost guarantee that. Why? Simple -- what politician is going to be the one that votes against punishing sex offenders? The only ones who can do it are those who have no intention of ever running for office again, as "being soft on sex offenders" ads would be the first thing run by any opponent they would ever face again.

And that is how laws that have absolutely nothing to do with protecting the populace or effectively fighting crime are passed, while the rest of us pray our bank doesn't jack up the rates on our mortgage and force us to share that bridge with the pedophiles...

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