Viewpoint: No one wants to fix America’s overcrowded prisons

By Joshua Madden
A&E Editor

Lindsay Lohan is going to jail, again, for a violation of her probation, which in turn was a result of stealing a necklace and other crimes.

Her sentence is for 30 days, but she will likely not even have to spend the night. Why not, you ask? California’s prisons are so overcrowded that they can’t really accept anyone new who isn’t going to be there for a long time.

She’ll check in; she’ll check out. It’ll be quicker than a Kardashian marriage.

No one seems to want to acknowledge the facts, but our current prison system is barbaric. The Supreme Court has already ruled that California has far too many people in prison, but it won’t go as far as to start acknowledging the obvious – maybe we’re putting people in prison too long for too many things.

I don’t think anyone would argue that going to prison for something like murder or rape is objectionable. But is it really right to lock someone in a cage for years because of an inadvertent lie to the Federal Bureau of Investigation?

Just ask Rod Blagojevich, the former governor of Illinois, who was originally convicted of only one felony: making false statements to the FBI His statement: that he “has tried to maintain a firewall between politics and government.”

That one statement – which was made in an interview with investigators – could cost him up to five years in prison. This is despite the fact that such a statement is both clearly opinionated and also borderline meaningless.

I think everyone can acknowledge that sentencing someone to five years in prison for that would be truly barbaric. Anything more than a fine is probably excessive.

What about victimless crimes? If someone smokes marijuana, is that harming anyone other than themselves and their own productivity? Should other Americans really have to spend their tax dollars to lock this person in a cage?

Of course not. Blagojevich’s statement to the FBI., whether it was actually false or not, is arguably less harmful to society than Ms. Lohan’s theft (or any of her recent movies – zing!) and yet he could give half a decade behind bars while she will, despite repeated misbehavior, not even be able to get in a full showing of “Parent Trap.”

We have an amazing level of willful ignorance when it comes to looking at the amount of time people go to prison for relatively small offenses. We simply are glad that it’s someone else going to prison, despite the fact that it’s our tax dollars paying for their stay and it is our communities that see criminals released early because of overcrowding.

If we really want to fix our prison system, we could stop making everything punishable by time in prison and we could start focusing on the crimes that actually matter. It’s about time we call on legislators to look at each crime on a case-by-case basis instead of assuming that sending someone to jail fixes everything.

Maybe then Lindsay Lohan would actually have to spend a little time in prison. I bet that’d make TMZ happy.

Joshua Madden is a graduate student in information systems from Olathe, Kan., and is the Lariat’s A&E editor.