Re: No federal parole

From: Charlie Stross (
Date: Tue Jan 30 2001 - 04:36:08 MST

On Mon, Jan 29, 2001 at 01:08:31PM -0800, Brian D Williams wrote:
> >
> >> What's wrong with people who commit crimes serving their full
> >> sentence?
> >1. It makes it hard for prison officers to maintain order. (If
> >your prisoners hope to get time off for good behaviour, they have
> >a positive incentive to behave themselves. This is a very useful
> >lever if you're thinking in terms of getting criminals to reform.
> >It also makes it less likely that an inmate will attack a prison
> >officer.)
> While I would normally agree that positive reinforcement is to be
> prefered, I think these are the very people on whom negative
> reinforcement might be more effective, i.e. sentence extensions for
> negative actions, make them responsible for their actions. How many
> are fooled by the false hope parole often is.

Er, no. We're discussing people who are in prison. They're in prison
because a negative reinforcement -- threat of imprisonment -- didn't
prevent them committing offenses while they were *out* of prison. Why
should threatening them with a negative reinforcement work while they're

There are several reasons why people end up in prison. One is that
they may be participating in a victimless crime -- one that I assume
everybody on this list agrees *shouldn't* be a crime, but is -- and they
get careless or unlucky. (I'm going to ignore this category, with the
caveat that it could be my turn next -- or yours.) Another is that
they've got poor impulse control and act stupidly (and illegally) on
the spur of the moment. This latter group isn't going to stop acting
on impulse just because they've been plonked into a new environment.
However, if we can try to train them to consistently work towards a long-
term goal, we may be able to improve their impulse control. Guess what:
trying to qualify for early release has got to be a valid goal for a
prisoner! So there's one category of criminal who may find the
opportunity for parole to be a major incentive to reform.

> I've never understood the parole system that well, every petty thug
> can quote you how long he's likely to get for whatever crime they
> are likely to commit, they already know the price and often can
> make an excellent guess of how likely they are to get away with
> what. This seems to be part of the problem.
The only problem here is that it sounds like parole is automatic, in
the system you're describing. The system *I'm* describing is one where
it isn't automatic: you qualify for it by good behaviour. Clear?

-- Charlie

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