The Criminalization of America

Posted by Jason | Posted in Government | Posted on 12-11-2009

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Yesterday, the Wall Street Journal had a front page article about those with arrest records are finding it increasingly difficult to find a job in the current economy.  It reminded me of a tweet I put out last week, that government’s role in society is to create criminals our of ordinary people.

Aren’t we supposed to be the most compassionate country on earth? How about a little forgive and forget for our fellow man? Let’s start with Wally Camis Jr.

One petitioner is Wally Camis Jr., who wanted to clear the air about the time he threatened two men with a hairbrush.

Mr. Camis was hungry for work amid a divorce last fall. The 41-year-old Air Force veteran, who had worked as a security guard and owned a restaurant, filled out an application for temporary employment in Eugene, Ore., checking a box saying he had never been arrested.

When he followed up a week later, the temp agency told him no thanks — they’d turned up a 1986 conviction. Stunned, Mr. Camis recalled the night the two men threatened him and he pulled a silver brush from his back pocket, saying it was a knife. He called the police, he says, and later pleaded guilty to aggravated assault with a deadly weapon, a misdemeanor. The judge entered a “no judgment” finding and ordered Mr. Camis to pay a $60 fine.

“I thought that was the end of it,” he says.

Instead, 22 years later, Mr. Camis found himself fighting to erase traces of the arrest, joining the growing ranks of Americans who hope that clearing their records of minor crimes will boost their odds in a tough job market. To help, entrepreneurs have set up record-clearing services and local governments have passed laws to speed the expungement process.

So, here is a veteran who served his country being punished because he threatened someone with a hair brush? Are you kidding me? This goes beyond ridiculous, and no one should have to go out of their way to expunge a dumbass ruling in the first place. Oh, how about this next mad man. Surely, he deserves what he has coming.

One Chicago 53-year-old, who has worked for an overnight delivery service and as a bricklayer, is nervous that his record’s sole smudge may come back to haunt him.

In 1974, he says, he was walking down a street near his Chicago home rolling a marijuana cigarette. He was arrested by an undercover police officer and convicted of possession. “That was back in the days when I had hair, and I just said, ‘Forget about it.’ I was like 17 or 18 years old — what did I care?”

His employers never learned of the conviction, he says, nor have his own children. But, hoping to coach high-school basketball when he retires in a few years, he’s working with a Chicago attorney to clear his record. “Nowadays they look for anything so I figured I better take care of this,” he says.

Wow, this guy smoked marijuana when he was 17 or 18. Who knows what he’s liable to do next. I know he’s 53 now, but you never know when those evil ways will return. How about these statistics.

These convictions are increasingly coming to employers’ attention. Background checks have become more commonplace in the years after the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks, and cheaper. More than 80% of companies performed such checks in 2006, compared with fewer than 50% in 1998, according to the Society for Human Resource Management, an association of HR professionals.

Millions of Americans are in a similar position. In 1967, 50% of American men had been arrested. Since then, arrests made in connection with domestic violence and illegal drugs have pushed the number to 60%, estimates Alfred Blumstein, a criminologist at Carnegie Mellon University. The annual number of arrests for possession of marijuana more than tripled to 1.8 million from 1980 to 2007, according to the U.S. Department of Justice.

Holy sh!t. 60% of American men have been arrested, and then they have to worry about the arrest, which I’m guessing a large chunk are frivolous, coming back and preventing them from being productive and contributive members of society. What in the world are our politicians doing? Maybe we need to change our criminal laws to something similar to the points system used for automobiles. If you commit a “crime” (and crime is debatable in some of these instances), you get points. After a certain period of time, those points are erased off your record. Now, I’m not saying all criminals. There are crimes that we can all agree should not be removed. Most of those would be violent crimes, and I don’t mean threatening someone with a hair brush.

I have an even better idea. If you want to really get this worked out, how about anyone who has been arrested cannot serve in the government anywhere. With 60% of men having an arrest record, I’m guessing many of those are politicians, bureacrats, judgets, police, etc. Maybe seeing the stupidity of criminalizing our society, they will be a little more reasonable when branding someone for life as a criminal.

The house version of the healh care reform bill has fines and jail time for those who refuse to buy health care and pay the new fine. Wonder what that 60% of men will go up to?


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