The United States Criminal Justice system is a curious thing. Make a one man weep, make another man sing. (With apologies to Huey Lewis).

There are two basic categories of crime in the United States. Mala in se (punishable and wrong because it is evil), and mala prohibita (punishable because it is regulated). Things that are wrong and punishable because they are evil include theft, robbery, lying under oath, burglary, adultery, sodomy, rape, murder, abortion, and other bad things. Things that are punishable because they are regulated would include things like jaywalking, statutory rape (not to be confused with pedophilia or forcible rape), speeding, parking violations, underage smoking and drinking, DUI (gray area), possession of drugs, sale and distribution of drugs, tax evasion, failure to register your car, and other things. What about gun possession? The Second Amendment is fairly clear about this:

A well regulated Militia, being necessary to the security of a free State, the right of the people to keep and bear Arms, shall not be infringed.

Or in other words, because we need people in the militia to defend a free State, they already have the right to keep and bear Arms, so don’t infringe on it!

It is actually a separate and distinct federal offense if you commit a crime, have a gun with you while you do it, and never actually use the gun to aid in committing the crime. If the gun was never used for any unlawful purpose, but you are carrying it while committing a crime, that is in and of itself an additional crime. Maybe the government is afraid of an armed population, which is why you must have a permit to carry a concealed weapon. The only reason people don’t carry unconcealed weapons is because everyone pretty much freaks out when you do. [rant over, for now.]

In the modern day, things that were mala in se crimes have been legalized via judicial fiat, like abortion and sodomy. In most states, adultery was already taken off the books by legislatures, probably because legislators did not want to be prosecuted. (For those of you with malfunctioning humor sensors, that last part was intended to be half-joking). Besides, with the Christian teaching of who should cast the first stone at someone taken in adultery, a certain level of compassion vs. incarceration is definitely appropriate. Apparently, the Constitution in the “penumbra of an emanation” somehow guaranteed the right to abortion and gay sex.

Regulatory Crimes [Note: nothing in this discussion should be interpreted as advocating the use of any illegal substances or even substances that violate the Word of Wisdom. Just that maybe drug users shouldn’t be going to jail as much as they are. Cops are also mostly good people who just have a very tough job. Like most other groups of people, some of them are jerks who abuse their power.]

What is it that makes alcohol just fine to drink when you hear about so many violent drunks? What is just fine about tobacco but suddenly criminal for marijuana? Most pot smokers get very lethargic and hungry. They will order pizza on the phone because they are too tired to get up and make something to eat. Violent pot smokers who come home and beat their families is a news story rarely heard if ever, they are often very peaceful people because of the drug and waste their time.

Drugs are often a vehicle to escape a tough reality. People smoke pot, drink alcohol, take methamphetamine, cocaine, heroin, LSD, and a variety of drugs. On the other hand, some people instead of turning to drugs will go to counseling, their doctors, or psychiatrists and receive medication for their emotional or mental problems. These drugs can be habit forming and going on and off the drugs without medical attention can cause complications. A few people get prosecuted for prescription drug abuse but it does not carry the same stigma that attaches to pot smokers, even if the drugs make them do worse things. Why do some people turn to illegal drugs instead of legal drugs?

A large part of it is money. Poor people don’t have as much ready access to psychiatrists and counselors to help them cope so they may drink more. Sometimes they get drugs for cheap and then are hooked. Addicts are not criminals in the same way rapists are criminals and should not be treated the same either. People more well off can afford to get a prescription for paxil, or wellbutrin, or prozac, or any number of drugs to help them feel better. Because of the nature of the drug trade, it is likely that the well off know of less sources of illegal drugs. How many drug dealers are you personally aware of?

The deck is also stacked against poor people in the criminal justice system. Public defenders are overworked and often take plea deals even for their not-guilty clients because it will save them the risk of a trial in case they lose. Poor people can’t pay heavy fines in lieu of jail time and may lose their jobs. Crime is a huge problem for poor people who may be falsely accused.

Part of the difference between the middle class to rich and the poor is that behavior common to poor people has been made a crime. Pot is illegal, smoking tobacco is not. Seeking mind altering drugs because you get them with a prescription is OK but seeking mind altering drugs from a friend will land you in prison. These are regulatory crimes. Is it really fair to regulate an entire category of people into a higher risk of going to prison? It is worth thinking about. Especially when you consider that cocaine was legal until the 1920’s, opiates were not illegal in the U.S. until 1914 (Bayer had an ad for Heroin in 1898) , Amphetamines were not illegal until 1965, and in WWII, there was a “hemp for victory” campaign because the material was used in so many processes in clothing and parachute making before marijuana was also declared illegal in the 1950’s. Regulatory indeed.

A first-time pot seller was convicted on the sales charges and had a concealed gun he never used. This case was in Utah. According to Federal mandatory minimum sentencing, he was given 55 YEARS IN PRISON. FOR A NON-VIOLENT CRIME. There are many violent offenders and murderers who do not get that much jail time. This is what passes for justice in punishing a regulatory crime.

Chicago Police have been torturing suspects for many, many years. While the report does not state it, it is likely that the suspects were also minorities. A Google video search for police brutality has over 6,000 results. Many of the results are from foreign countries.

Regardless of the ultimate causes, here are some numerical results of the criminal justice systems.

Keep in mind, the Black Population (see page 3) is only 12.9% of
the U.S. population. The Latino Population (see page 3) is only 12.5% of the U.S. population. Combined they are just over 25% of the population. If people are committing crimes uniformly across the population, minorities should be approximately 1/4 of the prison population.

Latinos are twice as likely as whites to be incarcerated and blacks are six times as likely to be incarcerated as whites. One in eight black men aged 25-29 are incarcerated.

The U.S. adult population has a literacy rate of approximately 96%. The Prison population has a literacy rate of just over 80%.

The less money you make, the more likely you are to be burglarized. This is probably a function of where people who make less money live however.

You are also way more likely to get killed if you are a black male.

There are some interesting numbers about whether you think the police treat all people fairly or if you have full confidence in the police.

You can find additional statistics and reports here.

Something just seems wrong when so many people are disproportionately imprisoned for regulatory crimes that perhaps shouldn’t be crimes, or are maybe under the surface hypocritical. Going to prison for something is a huge deal. You lose your job, your ability to support your family if you have one, you are locked up with a lot of other criminals who may or may not be violent, you lose the right to vote if you were convicted of a felony, you are forever branded as a criminal and people look at you with suspicion. As a member of the church, you would lose your membership. Word of wisdom issues will not generally cost someone their membership, going to jail over them will.

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