Last night I closed the downstairs windows before going to bed. Why? I watched the 10:00 news. A gang of criminals has been breaking into homes in the town next door, at night when residents are home and asleep. While police captured three, there are others still on the loose. There are worse criminals still around. A couple days ago an ice cream stand was robbed. The manager was shot and an 18-year old kid working there was killed. Police have identified suspects. Both have long records. One has 20 arrests as a juvenile and is on parole for his other crimes as an adult. The other served time for first degree sexual assault in addition to other crimes as an adult and juvenile. Both are gang members. My first thought was "why are these thugs even out on the street?"
It seems we tend to fall into one of two camps. Either we believe in zero-tolerance, truth-in-sentencing, three strikes, and similar tough approaches to crime, or we believe in rehabilitation, time served and a fresh start, treatment for addictions, etc. Both approaches have their problems, but set that aside for a moment. Our faltering economy is going to raise the level of debate. On the one hand, criminal activity tend to increase as the economy weakens, as people on the margins perceive fewer opportunities. On the other hand, strained state budgets have many prison systems (which have been one of the fastest-growing budget expenses) releasing prisoners early, putting them back on the street. A perfect storm?
So what is the solution? More widespread use of the death sentence? More efforts to rehabilitate offenders? Forced labor for prisoners, to help recoupe some of the cost of housing them? Ankle bracelets and home sentencing? Exiling criminals to remote island prisons where they can serve out their sentence, and if they live through it, remain for the rest of their lives?