There Ought to be a Law! — Or Ought There?

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.


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Published in: on December 28, 2007 at 3:43 pm  Comments (6)  
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6 CommentsLeave a comment

  1. Excellent column, diogenes.

    How many people commit crimes to support their cigarette habit? Exactly as many as are already inclined to steal. How many commit crimes to support their meth or heroin habits? We don’t know, because we only hear about the ones who get into trouble. It’s like judging all drinkers by the ones who get arrested.

    Live free, and prosper.

    Rycke

  2. No, Mr. Guy, giving people the option of sterilization is not “protecting them from their own supposed bad judgment.” Giving people more options grants them more opportunities to exercise their own judgment. Not providing the option is protecting them from their own bad judgment. You’re the one who’s advocating that.

    My position on this, as on everything else, is consistent with my fundamental bellief in the axiomatic principle of free will and personal responsibility. For everybody.

  3. “I just don’t believe it’s the role of government to protect them from their own bad judgement.”

    So, giving them money so they can be sterilized isn’t protecting them from their own supposed bad judgement?

    I doubt that nicotine has the same effect on the body as cocaine, heroin, opium, etc.. I’m not in favor of legalizing or decriminalizing all forms of currently illegal drugs. Doing something along the lines that Canada has done would be a good idea IMO though.

  4. The whole point of your coercive sterilization program for the poor is to proactively stop them from having children that you alone think they shouldn’t have…it’s *exactly* “to protect them from their own bad judgement”, but you can’t see that because you’re too blind.

    Yea, providing poor people (who in some cases might not know any better because of their lack of education) the “option” of *permanently mutilating* themselves to serve your own need to try & just wipe out poor people is really just some kind of noble choice…sure, right. That idea is, IMO, is completely and totally reprehensible, period. Maybe we should just give them a bullet and a gun and be done with it, right? “Just aim at your own head please…”

  5. Apparently, you’re convinced that poor people are not competent to make decisions for themselves and, therefore, should not be given options because they might make what you consider to be the wrong choice. Yet you accuse me of trying to protect them from their own bad judgment. Your logic is convoluted.

    The idea that having one’s tubes tied is “mutilation” is extremely reactionary and paternalistic. Tubal ligation is an effective means of birth control for women who choose not to have children. (Yes, that is a viable choice for a woman to make, regardless of your personal opinion of it.) You’re so blinded by your own outdated preconception of women as breeding vessels that you cannot even accept that as a reasonable option. And you’re so sure you know better than others what’s best for them that you would prevent them from having the option to make a choice of which you disapprove.

    (BTW, I think these last four comments have strayed to the wrong blog entry. They’re actually related to the post How to Stop Propagating Poverty.)

  6. You’re out to sterilize as many poor people as possible, and I’m a stick in the mud, living in the past with my outdated way of looking at things…LOL!!!! That is rich…you’re the one trying to bribe them into getting sterilized in the first place!! I re-iterate what I have basically said to you many times before…you have no heart, period, end of story. Pout all you want now…


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