CRIME AND SOCIAL JUSTICE
In the U.S., crime has generally been addressed by a simple solution–lock ’em up. For example, in response to widespread crime and drug trafficking in the 1980s, Congress imposed longer minimum sentences for federal drug offenders, removing judges’ discretion. The net result was that federal drug offenders. from violent predators to small time neighborhood pushers, filled federal prisons to the point of overflowing. Unfortunately, drug epidemics persist, with opioids delivered by licensed pharmacists the current crisis, On the other hand, supporters of these harsh sentences note that, since the 1990s, violent crime and property crime in the U.S. have both steadily declined. It’s not clear that there is a connection. There is concern, however, that the incarceration of so many people, particularly black and Hispanic males, is negatively impacting society, perpetuating cycles of poverty, fatherless children and crime in minority communities.
A lot of people in the US have had their lives destroyed by their use of opioids, methamphetamines and other addictive drugs. A lot of other people make enormous amounts of money selling addictive drugs to addicts. The wealth earned by sellers of legal and illegal addictive drugs pales by comparison to the costs imposed on society by their customers’ addiction—poverty, crime, homelessness, orphans, rehabilitation expense and the countless hours of productivity lost by family members of addicts who must deal with the fallout from their loved ones’ addiction. In short, the economic incentives of drug sellers are aligned to continue at a potentially unlimited cost to society.
The latest wrinkle is that many new addicts first get hooked on legally prescribed opioids that eventually lead to addiction to cheaper and potentially deadly street drugs like Mexican tar heroin. The notion that marijuana is a “gateway” drug that necessarily leads to more serious drug use like heroin was long ago debunked. Unfortunately, it has been replaced by true gateway drugs like OxyContin, Vicodin and Percocet, that are first prescribed by a doctor and purchased at a neighborhood pharmacy. Lawsuits by states against some of these legal purveyors of addiction and the resulting cash settlements exonerating the drug companies have done little to help the millions of people caught in the death spiral of drug addiction, crime, poverty and homelessness. We need creative, nonpartisan solutions to the rampant social and economic problems caused by the poison of addictive drugs.
It is unrealistic to think that Americans with guns will ever consent to giving them up, even though the vast majority of us probably should do so. The odds that a gun in a home will be used to injure or kill one of the residents are much higher than the odds that it will be used effectively to protect the homeowner from a criminal. But no matter. No gun bearing homeowner believes that he or she will ever be on the wrong side of that statistic. We aren’t going to change that, for myriad reasons. But we really do need a way to prevent kids and mentally ill adults from injuring themselves and others with guns. As it is now, when irresponsible persons, young, old or ill, use deadly weapons to commit mayhem, no one else is held responsible for their access to such dangerous weapons.
While devastating mass shootings grab headlines and stir political controversy, those deaths are only a fraction of the deaths and destruction Americans suffer from firearms even day. The ready availability of guns and other dangerous weapons contributes to the deaths of hundreds of Americans every day of the year. There are more than 120 guns in the US for every 100 US residents, including children. That’s more than 50 times as many guns per person as in the United Kingdom and far more guns per person than any other country in the world.
In other words, for better or worse, a huge number of Americans believe that they should exercise the constitutional right to own and, in some cases, carry a gun. That is not going to change overnight. So we need to stop talking about the government taking away guns and start thinking about ideas to reduce the amount of violence that is done with the guns.
American prisons, state and federal, are a disaster. They are overcrowded, underfunded and grossly ineffective in both their stated mission of rehabilitating criminals and their de facto mission of housing and protecting the mentally ill. They are overcrowded because politicians fueled by frightened voters and sentencing-handcuffed judges fill them with victims of drug addiction, mental illness and poverty, eventually transforming even the most innocent into hardened recidivist criminals. Prisons are underfunded because politicians and prison administrators really don’t believe in rehabilitation of criminals. It is almost impossible to convince politicians to spend limited tax dollars on helping prisoners cure drug addiction, mental illness or other barriers keeping them rejoining society as productive citizens. So the cycle goes on and on, with recidivist criminals overcrowding our prisons and making rehabilitation even more difficult and unlikely.
As it is today, American prisons do not reduce crime or rehabilitate criminals; they are just an expensive way of recycling criminals and the crimes that they commit. We need to develop creative, pragmatic and cost effective ideas to stop that cycle.
Cybercrime may be the best example of how political paralysis in Congress has prevented practical, nonpartisan solutions from being implemented. Every day, everyone in the US with an email address receives scam emails that are sent for the sole purpose of trying to steal money or other property from the recipient, whether by cyber spying, “phishing”, ransomware, malware or any of a host of other online scams. Likewise, every day, millions of hackers try to exploit vulnerabilities to take control of personal medical records, bank accounts, home computer cameras, brokerage accounts, home security systems, electric power grids and computer servers of every type.
Headlines bemoan foreign governments and actors working to steal government and business secrets but little is said, and nothing is done to stop, the countless millions of dollars stolen from ordinary citizens every day. Citizens are simply warned by law enforcement authorities to “be careful.” In other words, we are on our own. There has got to be a way that online criminals can be discouraged and apprehended and funds returned to victims. Too bad, so sad is not the right answer.
We need technologically feasible, sophisticated and adaptable methods of identifying, locating, apprehending and punishing cybercriminals all around the world. We need to develop technologies that shield all US residents from contact with known cybercriminals. We need creative ways to stop cybercriminals from collecting ransomware and earning money from other online piracy. The most effective solutions will never start from the US government, which simply can’t keep pace with the rapidly evolving technology. The best ideas, and the methods for implementing them, will have to come from the people, particularly those in the technology community.