Re: No US Federal parole, was Re: Say what? was Re: true abundance?

From: Charlie Stross (
Date: Mon Jan 29 2001 - 05:16:07 MST

On Mon, Jan 29, 2001 at 12:19:05AM -0800, Michael M. Butler wrote:
> No parole for any federal offenders for 16 years now and counting. Ergo
> every federal prisoner, or near enough, would wind up there. It's easy
> to forget just how Procrustean the System already is... or is that
> Draconian?

As a point of reference: the UK imprisons roughly 50% more people per
hundred thousand than ANY other country in Europe. But the USA per-capita
imprisonment rate is nearly ten times higher!

Either you have an order of magnitude more violent criminals (which I
find somewhat hard to believe) or something has gone Very Wrong with
your judicial system.

One possibility is that most EU countries direct some effort towards
rehabilitation of offenders; even the UK does to some extent. There
are also a range of measures short of imprisonment, and just about no
mandatory sentencing guidelines. Proposals some years ago (when Michael
Howard was Home Secretary) to abolish parole and adopt US-style mandatory
sentencing were back-pedalled on hard when it became apparent that the
prison population would double within three years (despite there being
no associated increase in crime).

I figure the appropriate purpose of a judicial system is, first and
foremost, to protect the public from crimes. There are two obvious ways
of doing this: execute everybody found guilty of anything at all, or
take persistent lawbreakers and try to *reform* them. (Oh, and cut down
on the number of laws so that we have a legal system that everybody can
understand, abolish victimless crimes, yadda yadda -- you've heard it all
before.) Even from a utilitarian point of view, reforming people wins
hands-down over executing/imprisonment-for-life, because it returns a
productive citizen to society rather than costing a lot and being a net

So what went wrong? My guess: politicians promising to be "tough on crime"
because they figure that punishment (as opposed to rehabilitation) is more
likely to win votes. If this is the case, your first step towards reducing
crime and shutting down your Gulag will be to get crime and punishment off
the political agenda as a cheap vote-winner ...

-- Charlie

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