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Sunday, September 7, 2014

No, Let's Not Send The McDonnells To Jail

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Last week Virginia's ex-Governor Bob McDonnell and his wife Maureen were found guilty of illegally accepting some $177,000 in gifts and loans while in office.

I don't presume to know all of the reasons the jury agreed on its verdict--one that in any case is sure to be appealed--but even if they are guilty as charged, what good would be served by either or both of them spending years in behind bars?

I say that primarily because I'm against spending millions on incarcerating non-violent offenders in general, regardless of their race, nationality or social status. It would make far more sense to have those who commit crimes to make actual restitution for their deeds rather having the rest of us foot the approximately $30,000 annual bill to feed and care for them behind bars.

The McDonnells, like so many citizens charged with crimes, pose no physical or other danger to society. They just need to be made fully accountable for making their wrongs right.

The best way to do this, in the opinion of more and more people, is through a restorative justice process in which offender and offended (in this case Virginians whose trust they have betrayed) agree together on how they could actually "pay their debt to society". Punishment itself doesn't accomplish that.

A restorative justice approach might include having Bob and Maureen make a public apology, for a start, along with coming up with $177,000 or more, plus the equivalent of the sum of all court costs, to contribute to Virginia's state budget and/or to some other agreed on cause. In addition, they could be asked to put their energy and skills to constructive use in some form of assigned public service that would benefit the citizens of the Commonwealth.

Otherwise, if they are simply put behind bars for a combined 10-20 years, who will pay? Innocent taxpayers will, of course, to the tune of up to a total of half million or more. To say nothing of the waste of having two talented and otherwise good people remain unproductive and without contributing to the well being of society for the duration.

Meanwhile, if imprisonment is not a rational way to deal with the socially privileged McDonnells, how is it such a great idea to keep incarcerating all of the rest of the millions of U.S. citizens who are also non-violent offenders? And how can simply adding more jail space here locally be defended as a good investment?

We can do much better than that.

Here's a link to more posts on criminal justice.
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