In many ways, Zach Anderson, 19, is like any other kid. He wants to work in computer science. He enjoys skateboarding. He used a dating app to pick up girls.
In one very specific way, Anderson is not like other teenagers. He is now a registered sex offender.
Anderson downloaded the dating app “Hot or Not” last year and met a girl in the adult section who said she was 17. They met up and had consensual sex. After the incident, it came out that the girl was actually 14 and lied about her age.
Anderson will be a registered sex offender for the next 25 years, until he is 44 years old. Over that time period, he will not be able to live within 1,000 feet of a school.
He is also under felony probation for the next five years. Over that time period, he will not be able to even talk to someone under the age of 17 other than immediate family, own a smart phone or stay out past 8 p.m. Perhaps most difficult, the budding computer scientist will not be allowed to own a laptop.
Is this justice?
It is estimated that 2 million people are currently incarcerated in America. Furthermore, about one in every 31 adults is currently under supervision of the legal system, whether in prison, probation or parole.
If the people currently incarcerated were making the average American salary ($50,000), they would make a combined $100 billion. Instead, those same Americans are costing the government over $60 billion per year to keep in a cage.
While the prison numbers are staggering, the punishment does not stop there. People who are convicted felons have an incredibly difficult time re-entering society. Many companies will not hire a convicted felon, so most of the jobs available are low-income and put people back in the situations that got them in trouble in the first place.
Socially, these people are never able to become a full member of society again. Many people commit these crimes when they are young, but it follows them for the rest of their lives.
The most jarring detail is the fact that the crime rate has actually dropped to the lowest levels since the 1970s, while the incarceration rate has quadrupled over the same period.
When a convict goes to prison, they are supposed to be doing their time. But when society shuns these people and makes it impossible for them to reintegrate, we are effectively levying life sentences on every felon, no matter what the crime.
Anderson made a big mistake as a 19-year-old kid. He will be paying for this same mistake for the rest of his life.
America is a land of opportunity and a land of second chances. For us to truly live up to our ideals, we have to be willing to use our population to its best ability.