html xmlns="" xml:lang="en" lang="en"> From the archives: Mostly YAY!

Wednesday, November 08, 2006

Mostly YAY!

I'm in the field today, with a soil scientist and a native plant botanist. It's like a fantasy come true.

Speaking of which!

YAY!!!! for the House! Yay!! for a woman Speaker of the House!!! Maybe YAY!!! for the Senate!!! And a huge, great big YAY for sending Pombo home. We'll keep the Endangered Species Act, thank you.

Thank God for No on 90!!! We'll be funding levee repairs, and shelters and schools, and, coincidentally, my job.

I wish Doolittle and his stupid Auburn Dam had been sent packing. I'm sad that we passed putting GPS devices on sex offenders. They are not animals to be tracked.

But mostly... YAY!!!!!!


Anonymous David said...

"I'm sad that we passed putting GPS devices on sex offenders. They are not animals to be tracked."

In fact, they are far far worse than animals to be tracked. Animals rarely ruin the lives of humans. If one of these nasty people would molest your perfect little nephew, and he goes through 8 years of therapy because he can't understand what he did wrong to deserve it, and he ends up committing suicide, and your sister gets divorced and it breaks your father’s heart and the entire family is ruined, wouldn't you want to pull out all the stops to make sure that the same monster doesn't do it again and ruin other families?

It's a harsh image to conjure up, but your are misplacing your compassion from the victim, to the criminal. Clearly, no one you know has had their life ruined by one of these animals. (I suppose it is equally clear that someone I know, did)

After years of struggle, you can forgive, but you can never forget. And you sure as hell can never live it down if it happens again, to other innocent children, and you could have stopped it, even if it meant tracking the animals.

7:22 AM  
Blogger Bob V said...

It isn't fair to call them animals. For the most part, animals don't intentionally ruin people's lives. They often can't understand the long-term consequences of their actions. That is not the case with sex offenders.

I have no idea how effective GPS devices will be at preventing future crimes, but it seems like a relatively humane way to enforce whatever rules they are supposed to follow. I think the most important point though is that they had a choice in the matter. What happens to them is a consequence of the decisions they made.

8:07 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Agree with bob and Dave: those who act in this way have shown themselves to be worse than animals and it is not clear to me that tagging is a serious infringement of their 'humanity' (or what remains of it).

I mean, if one goes down that road prison is also treating them like animals. No?

For me, this just re-inforces the point made in the previous post: the projection of "universal love" to everyone-irrespective of what they say or do-doesn't make much sense.

I can see what Megan is saying if she's talking about the dangers of self-righteous anger..but surely there's a time and place for righteous anger?

8:21 AM  
Anonymous justus said...

wouldn't you want to pull out all the stops to make sure that the same monster doesn't do it again and ruin other families?

No, I wouldn't want to pull out all the stops and I say that as someone who was in fact the victim of sexual abuse as a child over the course of nearly a year by a "friend" of the family; I don't need to indulge in stupid hypotheticals.

8:37 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Ok then, if the crime is unrecoverable, kill them.

If we are saying that there is a crime which requires cruel and unusual punishment and a permanent revocation of these people's civil rights, then either lock them up for life or make it a capitol crime.

Part of the promise of a just system is the idea that a former criminal can change their ways and reintegrate with society. If you are permanently denying them reintegration, why not deny them life. I'm not particularly happy with the databasing efforts to track these people either. If the recidivism rate is dangerously high, don't let them out. Or make the second offense a capitol crime.

What really upsets me is that I feel that it's inhumane treatment. At least permanent incarceration or death aren't taunting the person to go underground or forcing them to move out into rural areas where enforcement and policing is more sparse.

What passing this law really guarantees is that former sex offenders will have no choice but to steal an identity and go underground. Will that make you supporters of this inhumane and degrading law happier than simply dogging them with databases?

-- Tim.

9:40 AM  
Anonymous ptm said...

Yay! Yay!

Being in my late 20's, this is the first happy election result in my memory.

9:56 AM  
Blogger ScottM said...

I'm with you on your yays and am very happy that people figured out 90 between the time I went to bed and when I woke up.

I'm also sad at how overwhelming 83's support was; evidently there's no amount of hounding strong enough to satisfy people. I suppose we could break out the branding irons again...

9:57 AM  
Blogger Bob V said...

Anonymous, what is cruel or unusual about it? Are GPS trackers painful? Do they prevent the person from carrying out the most important tasks in their lives? On the contrary, I am guessing they just make sure the person doesn't go too close to a school.

If the recidivism rate is dangerously high, don't let them out. Or make the second offense a capitol crime.

But why? Do you honestly think we are better off killing people than tracking them? Is it so inhumane and debasing that death is a better option? We're not branding letters on people's foreheads. (I presume) we're sticking non-invasive, electronic devices on them.

10:54 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I'm confused, why would anyone not support prop 90? Limit eminent domain, require government to pay people their lost property value when a law hurts property value. It all sounded good to me.

Anyway, at least the cigarette tax, and campaign finance didn't pass.


11:05 AM  
Blogger Bob V said...

Justin, this site seems to suggest 90 was a bad idea because people could sue to receive compensation for the impact of eminent domain confiscations on their property. The claim is that this would lead to frivolous lawsuits. (I am not a lawyer or a Californian.)

11:16 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Yeah, to me, that was the good point. Make it very expensive to screw with people's property, or pass new laws that unfairly restrict the use of their property.


11:52 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

This is one of those moments where I get to be nerdy on this blog.

Eminent domain, as you probably know, allows governments to essentially buy-out private property for projects that they feel are necessary. Thus, people are usually already compensated for their land when it is taken away. Maybe not as much as they would like but still compensated somehow.

Sometimes these projects include protecting huge tracts of space from development. Unfortunately, the Kelo v. New London case gave eminent domain a bad name. The geniuses in New London said that helping Pfizer build a new plant by condemning Suzette Kelo's home was necessary. The Supreme Court agreed that this was a local issue and not a federal one. Thus, New London could do whatever the hell it wants. Sorry Suzette Kelo.

Propositions like 90 use the smokescreen of "scary eminent domain" to increase and/or promote potential development. Prop 90 had provisions in it that restricted things like downzoning and creating greenbelts. Instead of rolling hills along I-5, you could see more high rises and planned communities.

So, although frivolous lawsuits were one potential negative impact of Prop 90 passing, the effects were far reaching and more insidious.

2:19 PM  
Anonymous Shane said...

I don't think anyone disagrees with the fact that sex offenders are bad. But is 83 the best way to deal with them? It costs a ton of money, been tried and failed in Iowa. Why would it be successful now in CA? I don’t even see how it would prevent the murder of Jessica Lunsford, the girl whom the law is named after.

During a radio debate on Prop 83, I heard no rebuttals for any of those points from the pro 83 side, only repeating statements about how important it is to protect the children...

4:31 PM  
Blogger Megan said...

I can't tell you how much I hate that Megan's Law shares my name.

Look, we have a justice system. The purpose of sentencing is to force people to pay their debt to society. When they leave the justice system, they have paid. We are even.

If they have not paid sufficiently, or if recidivism is a risk, then the justice system needs to address that. But once they have left the justice system, they are square. If the sentence for sex offenses is a lifetime of hounding, then make that the explicit sentence. If it is not, if it only five or ten or twenty years, then stop punishing them when their sentences are done.

But I like towns that have zoning, and general plans, and a cohesive structure and can put in new transportation systems and new, compact, downtown arenas. I want cities to be able to do all that, even if it hurts some people. Governments have to pay fair market value any time they completely take property; but they might not be able to afford to do that for zoning changes. Remember how I am all about the collective?

4:52 PM  
Blogger Bob V said...

Shane, if the trackers are likely to be ineffective, I agree they shouldn't just be used.
The purpose of sentencing is to force people to pay their debt to society.

Megan, there are several reasons for sentencing. (I wouldn't list paying a debt to society as one of them, but whatever.) One of the reasons is to keep criminals away from situations in which they will commit more crimes. So, let's say someone has paid their debt (whatever that means) with a 10-year sentence, but we are still worried that in the subsequent 10 years they will commit another crime. Why rob them of their freedom when a technological solution could make it safe to let them out.

By the way, do you guys also oppose the use of parole officers because they are an invasion of privacy for people who have been let out of prison and should not have any more obligations to the state? (I'm not trying to be silly. It is a sincere question.)

5:31 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

The theory behind our justice system is that criminals can be rehabilitated.

So, you commit a crime. The person you wronged gets to sue you in civil court, and the criminal will repay a debt directly to them.

But, the state also brings charges against the criminal. And the criminal has to pay a debt to society in general now. So, off to jail.

When the sentence is up, the criminal is considered rehabilitated, and is released.

When you're paroled, you're conditionally released from prison early. So, you get to be out of prison early, but on the condition that you meet certain requirements, one of which is meeting with a parole officer.

But, in this case, the prop 83 thing, sex offenders, after they're allegedly rehabilitated, they're still required to wear these GPS things. Parole is temporary though, it's not life long.

Megan's point is, if you think they can't be rehabilitated, then make the punishment include life long monitoring. Just make it part of the sentencing.

Though, I really only see a minor difference between passing prop 83, and what Megan wants.

Did I get that all about right?


5:41 PM  
Anonymous jens said...

I am not a Californian, and have not studied that proposition. If it applies ONLY to offenders who offend AFTER the proposition is passed, the difference is indeed effectively becomes part of every sentence.

If it applies to offenders in the PAST, it seems to me it would be an "ex post facto" punishment prohibited by our FEDERAL constitution.

6:11 PM  
Blogger amanda bee said...

This idea that with enough technology, we can eventually GPS all the bad guys and then we'll all be able to rest easy, it grows from the logic that gives us most perfect solutions (this pill will make you happy, these heels will make you loved), a logic that totally disregards the incredible complexity of the human mind and body.

I'm not saying sex offenders are good (or just complex and thus excusable), I'm saying that we are all totally fooling ourselves if we think that GPS will save us. There are some people that nothing will save us from and we'll never be able to stop them. We continue to sideline mental health services and it is still an incredibly rare thing for children, especially boys, to be told that they can stand up for themselves, whether that means screaming like hell or telling their parents that they don't like it when so-and-so does thus and such.

Instead, we act like if we make enough rules, we can spare us from ourselves. Even with GPS and we'll still have my space. We have to learn to talk about difficult subjects. We can't just layer rules on forever.

PS: Parole is part of your sentence. So is probation.

8:25 PM  
Blogger Bob V said...

I'm definitely not defending this particular technology as being effective. Then again, other technological solutions such as walls around prisons seem like good ideas.
Justin, Megan, and Amanda, I don't see what the relevance is of whether the tracking is part of the sentencing or not. I thought we were debating whether the trackers themselves were inhumane and indefensible in all cases. How would making it part of the sentence all of the sudden make it humane?

6:45 AM  
Blogger Megan said...

It matters whether it is part of the sentence because guilt was decided on by nine peers, who have information about that specific case, and the extent of the penalty was decided on by a judge, who has information about that specific case. If that is a bad system, or doesn't collect the full debt the offender owes to society, or doesn't rehabilitate our citizens, then we need to fix that system. But, we do not decide to go around that system and impose more punishment, for the life of the offender, without knowing the facts of that case. (To me, this isn't about expense or efficacy.)

The proposition has already been enjoined from enforcement, on exactly the grounds that it is retroactive punishment.

Parole vs. GPS bracelets:
I can see that parole and GPS bracelets are on the same continuum, but I think the line for accountability of released prisoners should be somewhere between them. We made fun of this cliche in law school, but it says perfectly what I mean. Putting tracker bracelets on people is so offensive to human dignity that it demeans us all to participate. Fix the problem some other way.

8:25 AM  
Blogger amanda bee said...

Bob V, you asked if we opposed the use of Parole officers. Just as a practical matter, I was saying that no, I don't object to parole officers by virtue of their appearing after you leave jail. Your sentence doesn't end when you leave jail. But then, I wasn't the one who said your sentence ends when it ends.

I can't get into the idea of society extracting a debt, because it will send me careening into a tirade about how deeply fucked our justice system is and how outrageous the disparities are in the debts we extract from criminals of various sorts. And then someone will respond and we'll have a debate and I'll never get back to work.

9:08 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

"so offensive to human dinity"

I'm not sure. Why wouldn't one consider locking people up like caged animals also as "offensive"

Leaving to one side the efficacy of it and cost/benefit analysis -important though they are- how does one balance the punishment of the offence to human dignity that they are responsible for with the respecting of their own human dignity ?

I don't think it's as clear cut as you do. Of course, I agree with amanda that that doesn't mean that all problems can be solved this way or that technical solutions are the *only* solutions, or that one must "pull out all the stops".

9:16 AM  
Blogger Bob V said...

This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

10:46 AM  
Blogger Bob V said...

Megan, I think I'm getting more and more confused by your position. You mention that the judgment should be made by those who know the particulars of the case, which I certainly agree with it. But then you say that trackers are demeaning to human dignity. I presume you don't mean to imply that it is ok to do something demeaning as long as someone familiar with the case is making the decision. Do you rather mean that it shouldn't be done at all and if it were to be done it should be done by a judge?

Amanda, I agree with your judgment of the justice system (though we might disagree on the particulars.) I think I am just arguing that there is no reason to disallow the trackers as a tool to be used by the justice system in those cases in which it is appropriate.

Billo, great point regarding relative offensiveness. We throw people in prison with the implicit assumption that they will be raped and otherwise abused. We even regularly joke about it. Sure, we don't explicitly condone it, but how does that really change things? Trackers could actually be a boon for those who want to treat people with more dignity.

10:46 AM  
Anonymous justus said...

Why wouldn't one consider locking people up like caged animals also as "offensive"

Maybe some of us do?

11:03 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Megan - I've always used your arguments (practically verbatim), and HATE Megan's Law as well. But I will say GPS seems better than Megan's Law. The sex offender can rejoin a community - the GPS is a private cross to bear, right? Though longer sentences seems like a better answer to me.

11:51 AM  
Blogger amanda bee said...

Megan, I missed something (god I miss California and the feeding frenzy that is the ballot proposition system). 90 wasn't just about eminent domain, it was about zoning changes, too?


Right at this moment I am listening to a mammoth construction project that is underway across the street from my four story home. All up and down the block the tallest building is five stories, but this garage in the middle of the block just happens to be zoned for a six story building (even though it has been a falling down single story garage for decades) and due to all kinds of sleights of the real estate developer hand, they're able to combine a bunch of lots, put a "community facility" on the ground floor and they can build 12 stories. Good bye sunshine. It is too late for my neighbors to do anything about the zoning of that lot, we're doomed to be dwarfed by a highrise.

I don't know the history of the rezoning of that lot, but I know that throughout New York City, commercial space lies fallow because landlords want residential incomes off of it and eventually, when there is no business left in the area, they get their way. Huge swaths of land get rezoned after hundreds of thousands of dollars in lobbying money sifts its way through city hall. Once its done, the developers act like it is their god given right to build as high and wide as they see fit and it is an intrusion upon their free commerce when people say "no. sorry. you can't build what the city infrastructure can't support, and you can't build so dense that you create a public health hazard, and you can't put a fence there -- the water front is public. We told you that before."

I'm all for the state ponying up for lost property value due to zoning changes but only if landowners have to cough up every time that legislation sweetens their pie, too. Since that'll happen round about when hell freezes over, I congratulate you all on defeating Prop 90.

3:23 PM  
Blogger Megan said...

Do you rather mean that it shouldn't be done at all and if it were to be done it should be done by a judge?

Yes, exactly. It certainly should not be imposed as a blanket penalty by a punishment-hungry populace.

it will send me careening into a tirade about how deeply fucked our justice system is

I am sure I would agree with every last word of your tirade.

We throw people in prison with the implicit assumption that they will be raped and otherwise abused. We even regularly joke about it.

I don't. In fact, I believe that if you deprive someone of her liberty, you become responsible for her well-being. I believe our prisons owe them healthcare and protection. Again, if we intend to force someone into captivity and terror and rape, that should be weighed and explicitly decided upon in sentencing. I don't think it is, but that is my ideal.

5:51 PM  
Blogger amanda bee said...

I've been stuck on this monster thing all day. I tend to think it is a rhetorical trap, like I'm heartless and evil for not joining David in preventing preventable monstrosities.

And then today, a monster struck. Imagine you are walking your kids to the school bus one morning and the next thing you know your life's been turned upside down. You are drifting in and out of consciousness, your son is dead and the rest of your family is in the ICU. This happens all the time, and we know a lot about how we could prevent it. But we don't. We widen streets and replace stop signs with traffic lights to keep the traffic moving. We swat drivers on the back of the hand for driving on the sidewalk or running red lights instead of taking their car and license away on the spot.

It is a little more complex than a GPS bracelet but we absolutely could have prevented Jehovah Fombrun's death and we didn't.

6:37 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

M: "Yes, exactly. It certainly should not be imposed as a blanket penalty by a punishment-hungry populace"

I'm curious. In what sense is it "imposed" by the populace? And is it a "blanket penalty" or does it vary from individual case to case? Is it meant as a penalty anyway?

Amanda b, does the whole growth of surveillance technologies mean that these are indeed related issues in some sense? (CCTV, speed cameras...)

Megan, the question remains: do you think locking people up like caged animals is also offensive to their human dignity?

1:17 AM  
Blogger Bob V said...

Bob: and otherwise abused [in prisons]. We even regularly joke about it.

Megan: I don't.

I don't willfully joke about it. It just sort of happens... When someone mentions what's going to happen to Jeff Skilling or Martha Stewart in prison, I lose my mode of thinking that knows it is wrong to put people in such environments. I feel bad about it now now that I think about it, but I bet when a joke comes up in context again my guilt will be forgotten.

6:26 AM  
Anonymous jens said...

Catallarchy (one of those evil libertarian blogs) has a couple of posts relevant to this.


"It’s basically a life sentence for every single sex crime. In addition to giving longer sentences for some sex crimes, it says that sex offenders must be tracked with GPS for life, never mind the huge cost of actually doing so, and that they cannot ever again live within 2000 feet of a school or a park. The sex crimes in question need not involve children or even another human being. Many of them are in fact thought crimes."

Usefully for those of us who don't get CA local news, it also has a link for
"Update: Direct democracy may suck, but judicial review can make it a lot less harmful. A federal judge has already blocked enforcement of Prop 83."

9:47 PM  
Anonymous jens said...

Sorry, corrected link

10:01 PM  
Blogger Bob V said...

Had I known that was the plan, I would have been very much against it from the beginning of this thread. My argument has been that it doesn't make sense to offer the justice system a tool that could be profitably used in some cases. (Similarly, I think it is silly to say that it is *never* appropriate to use a Taser.) I still think a tracker might be useful on certain individuals, but certainly it shouldn't be put on everyone.
I wonder if they have to change the batteries...

8:09 AM  

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