Our prisons are full to overflowing. We don’t have enough prison space to lock up people who prey on society, so criminals get plea bargains, probation, suspended sentences, or serve a fraction of the time to which they’re sentenced. Yet, we waste law enforcement, court, and prison resources on arresting, prosecuting, and incarcerating people for crimes that are not predatory, and only present a danger to the perpetrators themselves.
What is the ultimate purpose of the criminal justice system? Is it to protect society from predators? Is it to protect people from themselves? Is it to punish immoral or irresponsible behavior? If the purpose is to protect society from those who prey on others, that is where we should focus our law enforcement efforts. We do not have sufficient resources to prosecute every crime or lock up every criminal. So lets make sure we spend our limited resources where we get the highest return on investment.
It isn’t that I don’t care if people who are weak, ignorant, irresponsible, or naive play havoc with their own lives. I just don’t believe it’s the role of government to protect them from their own bad judgement. The role of government is to protect me from you, or vice versa, and to protect both of us from a common enemy. Any law that does not serve that purpose not only goes beyond the legitimate authority of the government, it’s a waste of the taxpayers’ money.
The arguments supporting laws against “victimless crimes” are that drugs, gambling, and prostitution do have victims, indirectly, because they fund organized crime and because people commit crimes to support their habits. Some people also believe that decriminalizing these activities would encourage more people to engage in them. I’ll address these points in order.
If drugs, gambling, and prositution weren’t illegal, they wouldn’t fund organized crime. Instead, they would be taxed to help fund law enforcement and criminal justice. Decriminalizing victimless crimes would also reduce the burden on our criminal justice system and free up more law enforcement resources to arrest, prosecute, and incarcerate real criminals who do prey on society. Reducing funding for organized crime, increasing funding for law enforcement, and freeing up resources in the criminal justice system would significantly increase our capacity to effectively deal with real criminals.
Addicts resort to crime to support their habits because illegal drugs are so expensive. The cost of producing these drugs is no greater than the cost of producing tobacco or alcohol. If they were legal, they would be no more expensive than cigarettes or booze. Nicotine is as addictive as any known substance, but how many people commit crimes to support their cigarette habits? If drugs were legalized, addicts who are not otherwise criminally inclined would not be driven to crime. This would have an immediate impact on increasing public safety.
The final argument is that, if drugs, gambling, and prostitution were legal, more people would engage in those activities. I personally don’t believe that to be true. Most people who want to take drugs, gamble, or frequent prostitutes do so in spite of prohibition. Most people who don’t indulge, don’t refrain only because it’s illegal. There might be a few who would try it out of curiosity if it were legal, but that’s a question of personal accountability and individual choice.
It isn’t the role of the government to intervene in any individual’s pursuit of happiness, no matter how misdirected it may be, unless it violates the rights of other people.