Ken's thread <u>here</u> about a stupid criminal who stole a laptop from the courthouse to get the money for a program he was sentenced to, costing nearly $700, prompted this observation. The driving schools to which you can go to shave points and/or get a license back, the programs that drug/alcohol/spouse abusers can be sentenced to rather than do active jail time, any variety of rehabilitative programs, even mental health treatment in many cases; all of them cost a substantial amount of money, and very few accept payments. Many of these programs, at completion, will have the added benefit of wiping your record clean, as if the conviction had never happened, which makes it one hell of a lot easier to get and keep a job once you're out of trouble. Many schools are now doing criminal background checks, as well, effectively limiting the chances of an offender getting the education required in order to drag oneself out of that rut, and student loans are now being denied to people with minor offenses on their records. In addition, much of the alternative sentencing available such as intensive probation or house arrest, which are ideal for minor and non-violent offenses, often pass the costs to the defendant as well. The fines imposed by judges as punishment, if one is unable to pay them, will result in incarceration, which effectively causes the loss of a job, creating hardship on the family that defendant may have been responsible for supporting. This, in my opinion, contributes quite a bit to the statistically higher percentages of the lower socio-economic classes being incarcerated. I know for a fact from my own personal experience that if I'd had money, I would never have gone to prison some years back. I was offered several alternatives, none of which I could afford. Now I'm <i>not</i> looking for a debate about doing the time if you do the crime. That's not what this post is about. What this is, is an invitation to discuss the effect of economics on a certain segment of our society. There are those of us who have committed minor (and some not so minor) crimes that we will pay for for the rest of our lives. The impact of a criminal record can make it impossible, even years later, to be given the chance to excel. I have not hidden from you here the fact that I have spent time in prison, nor what that conviction was for. I do not hide it in my personal life either, which because of stereotypes of the typical ex-con, has made my life since being released in 1985 very, very difficult. For those of you who do not know, I murdered three of the four men who gang-raped me, and left the fourth in a wheelchair, after they were acquitted of all charges in court due to technicalities. Two of these men were using a crowbar to break into my home less than a week after the trial. I didn't inquire what they were doing there. They died on my back porch. I snapped completely, lost all sense of right and wrong, and went out hunting for the other two. I found them. I was given a very light sentence, which was commuted after less than two years, but the record remains. I have to wonder how very different it could have been, not just for me, but for a multitude of folks out there who did things far less serious than I did, many of whom I met while incarcerated. The programs and treatments are in place to help, but because some cannot afford them, they are warehoused simply to remove them from society. Prison as rehabilitation is a joke, trust me on that. How could we change this? Prison is not the place to put a first-time shoplifter, someone who wrote a couple of bad checks, or someone that got busted with a little bit of marijuana and a pipe. But because of finances, that is exactly where some of these minor offenders end up. There are people who have committed graver offenses who also would be better served by help, not pure punishment. Prison is a great training camp for despair, depression, and utter hopelessness. It's also wonderful training, for those who are so inclined, to graduate to increasingly more serious crime. These lesser "criminals" could be saved, could become assets to our community, but many are instead becoming burdens on society. Many more are the recidivists, returning to prison over and over again, in a downward spiral that will never end. Some are our homeless, many mentally ill, who were not afforded treatment while in the system, or did not have the resources to continue it. Then there are a few like me, who went to prison for a crime committed and paid the price, and who is considered highly unlikely to ever commit any similar offense in the future, but as a result will never be "successful" in the way the word is usually used. I'm interested in getting a feel of how many of you see this issue. There are a few of you I fully expect to say, "Fuck 'em! They screwed up, so why the hell should I care? They simply got what they deserved." On the other hand, I believe there are many more of you that will come to this conversation with an open mind, and will offer insight into possible solutions and repair of yet another one of our systems that is broken.