Friday, October 15, 2004

Dress Codes

Russel Chmieleski of Pennsylvania is in some seriously deep trouble. It turns out that he wasn't permitted to attend his high-school graduation ceremony, and rather than wearing a cap and gown, he chose to show up in somewhat less formal attire: his birthday suit.

The streaking Chmieleski was apprehended and charged with a number of crimes, which were bargained down to a guilty plea for indecent exposure - a first degree charge, since there were observers under 16 years old present. Chmieleski is now facing up to 2 years jail time for his indiscretion.

Is this truly an example of proportionality between the crime and the punishment? I think not. Not only is this sort of response overly prudish (especially since it was not exposure in a prurient context), but dangerous - prison crowding is a serious issue, and imprisoning fools compounds this unnecessarily. Further, more serious crimes often receive lighter punishments than the potential one facing Russel.

Let's hope that cooler heads prevail in this case, and that retributive justice takes a back seat to genuine community interests.


Chris said...

Hey, Tim. This seems like as good a post as any to bring up the fact that another one of the thousands of propositions on the ballot this November here in California is one that would reform the state's notorious "three-strikes" law. It seems that giving felons life sentences for shoplifting has left the state prisons with more prisoners than they can handle. While popular sentiment has turned against the current embodiment of the "three-strikes" law, the props' opponents have launcehd an aggressive ad campaing that comes just short of saying, "We're all going to die if we let shoplifters out on to the street."

Let me give you a little bit of background, in case you are unaware of how "three-strikes" works. Currently, California law forces a judge to sentence a felon who has commited at least two violent crimes (not including murder, or otherwise they wouldn't be back on the streets in the first place) to be sentenced to live imprisonment if he commits even so much as one additional crime while out on parole. Well, the new lawaw on the ballot would allow these convicts' cases to be re-evaluated by the judges to determine whether a life sentence or some lesser sentence would be appropriate to that particular criminal.

Anyways, what we have shaping up here is one helluva fight and bickering between those who would just love to sentence every petty criminal to live behind bars and those "cooler heads" who would prefer that restitution and not retribution was the name of the criminal justice game.

Tim said...

Thanks for informing us, Chris! I'm definitely a proponent of restitutive justice, and locking everyone in jail that looks at a politician cross-eyed isn't going to do anyone a whit of good. There's room for disagreement about some issues, but I think that no matter how we treat criminals in other circumstances, restritution should be the primary goal of the justice department.