Tuesday, September 22, 2009

Plaxico goes to prison

Does anyone actually feel any safer now that Plaxico Burress is behind bars? He's the NFL wide receiver who plead guilty to a firearms charge after accidentally shooting himself in the leg at a nightclub. He did not have a license to carry a handgun in New York. (But as I understand it, he had legally purchased the gun and did have it properly registered in another state.)

Look, we can debate the wisdom of carrying guns. (I'm personally would never touch one.) We can certainly question whether he was reckless with his. Fortunately, he managed to hurt only himself. And we can discuss the need for proper registration of guns and and certification for their owners (but in a post-Heller world, the defense attorney in me really wants to take on the law Burress was convicted under).

But regardless of any of these issues, I just can't see how the world is better off by putting Burress in prison for two years. He suffered plenty of pain and humiliation by the injury to his leg, didn't he? For a world-class athlete who makes his living by using his legs, there's not much more effective punishment than a little leg damage. What can two years in prison add? That will be two years away from his kids, one of whom hasn't even been born yet. His children will most definitely not benefit from two years without their father. Two years that he won't be able to earn an income, and in his profession, he has a limited earning window. Two years that he'll have to live in a cell, which may be something he'll never be able to shake.

Why do we have such a limited concept of how to respond to rule-breakers? There have to be better ways to deal with people who violate laws. We have a ridiculous percentage of our population behind bars, and they aren't all there for committing violent felonies. For far too long, we have been operating under the "when in doubt, lock 'em up" theory of sentencing. But that theory isn't doing us any good. Our prisons are busting at the seams and costing us hundreds of millions (billions?) of dollars. Imprisonment really ought to be a last resort, not a presumption. Prison just can't be the answer to everything.


DBB said...

You already answered this question - by noting the billions "wasted" on prisons. There is a huge amount of money to be made off of incarcerating everyone under the sun. That's why this will NEVER end. Just like there's huge money (and power) made off of the drug war - that's why pot will never be made legal, even though it makes zero sense for it to be illegal.

Bob S. said...

I agree. I think we should reserve prison for those who have harmed others instead of breaking a rule designed to legislate morality or behavior.

The drunk driver that runs someone off the runs should go to jail but the person caught for not using his turn signal and blows a 0.09, maybe probably not.

Plaxico hurt himself, he's paid the price for that transgression with that injury. Fine him a boatload of money and be done.

Of course, I question the need for laws that don't involve harming others to begin with.

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