Some comments in this post reminded me of an incident at Southern Tech University a while back, and an underlying statement about the justice system.

Southern Tech, like most universities worldwide, has a theft problem. It has this problem partly because it’s in the nature of universities to be insecure, easy targets. Universities combine large amounts of people, relatively open buildings, unknown or shifting class schedules that leave rooms full of steal-able items exposed, and a generally open atmosphere that can lead people to let their guard down; they then mix in personal belongings that are more and more expensive (laptops, PDA’s, cell phones) and a decent amount of fairly high-ticket items (projectors, computers, equipment of varying sorts) owned by the university itself. The end result is, universities are a reasonably easy place for would-be thieves to snag something that will later be sold to a pawn shop. SoTech’s location right next to what is generally a drug- and gang-ridden slum area of town makes the problem worse, but they’re certainly not unique – nearby colleges in both rural and very rich neighborhoods have similar theft issues.

Recently, the SoTech police department sent out a memo to the entire system. Jamal Damon Barack* had been let out of prison again, and as a condition of his parole he was warned that he was no longer welcome on our campus or any others he has stolen from. We were to post fliers with JDB’s face, and keep an eye out – calling the cops if he did show up.

Gannon claims:

On the other hand, the US tries 10, 11, 12, 13 year old children as Adults and sends them to jail. In general, there a way too much people in jail.

Actually, the US has the opposite problem – we’re far too lenient on many crimes, and for many criminals, the system of rehabilitation is a joke to start with.

In discussions with the police investigator, I’ve found out a number of things. It turns out JDB is one of 5 or 6 serial thieves in the area (in addition to garden-variety opportunists, who also hit campus) who make a living out of (a) targeting educational institutions and (b) living in jail. They all have a rap sheet a mile long – JDB, for instance, has over 50 arrests in 20 years, and over 300 convictions on various counts of theft (and those are just the ones they could prove: the estimate is that he’s responsible for at least twice that number). He’s known by virtually every campus cop who’s ever worked in Colosse or its neighboring areas.

Each of them have learned to game the system and have the following things in common:
#1 – They are nonviolent. The most any have on their record is a “resisting arrest (running away)” notation, rather than citation for attempting to injure an officer.
#2 – They know how to fool judges into thinking they’re contrite.
#3 – They know precisely how to behave in jail and quickly get into the good-behavior and “trustee” positions even before their sentencings.
#4 – They exploit any “other” circumstances (one has a “terminal disease”, others have other sob stories or elderly mothers/other relatives who constantly speak on their behalf in court) for reduced sentencing.
#5 – For them, the minimum security prisons are a joke. They get a comfortable bed, 3 square meals a day, cable TV, the equivalent of a health club in the prison gym, and aren’t required to do anything at all unless they take jobs in the trustee program. The trustee program not only gets them preferential treatment but money as well, all for just a couple hours of work a day. While they’re on the streets? They have to provide their own basic necessities like food and shelter, while worrying about anyone else who might try to attack them or steal from them.

The result? A virtual revolving door for these guys, with the educational institutions pretty much supplying their income (along with the shadier pawn shops where they hock their stuff after presenting ridiculously-fake “receipts”) while they’re out. And it’s not as if they are stupid, either; they are incredibly inventive in managing to break off theft-prevention devices or get into areas they’re not supposed to be in, including traveling over false-drop ceilings or blending in with student crowds.

SoTech’s police, along with the other police departments, have repeatedly tried to get these guys longer sentencing and serious sanctions on parole to try to clean up their behavior, but the system’s not having it. Colosse already has enough trouble with a relatively constant stream of violent/drug/gang crime due to turf wars between rival gangs of Blood/Crip/MS13 backgrounds; the judges don’t want to catch grief from misguided racial advocacy groups for contributing to the numbers of incarcerated minorities and one way that they can keep their numbers down is to let “nonviolent offenders” off as quickly as they can.

Gannon thought we are “too tough” on crime, for trying murderers as adults in some specific cases; I think we’re too easy on crime. There are way too many ways for a criminal to game the system and get out early, and not enough rehabilitative ways for the system to actually work on them once a criminal’s decided that crime pays. The added problem is that, societally, many of these kids in the black/latino subcultures are being taught precisely that by parents or “role models” who themselves are gang members or glorify “thug life” behavior.

It gets worse as the gangs have begun recruiting younger and younger members, as well, which relates somewhat to Gannon’s cry about “tried as adult” children. I’d argue that a kid who joins a gang and then shoots 4 people in cold blood has made a pretty adult decision to commit murder or his other crimes, and that seems to be the general consensus as well – but even then, such prosecutions are relatively rare compared to the number of kids committing gang crimes overall.

I’m willing to take a bet that, if these kids didn’t start out learning that (A) crime pays and (B) as a child criminal, the system would give them just a slap on the wrist (especially “first time offender”), they might grow up making a different calculation on crime. Fix the culture and treat crime seriously with greater punishment and stronger rehabilitative efforts, and you might just manage to reduce the number of people willing to take the risk and ending up in prison in the first place.

*name changed for purpose of the story, naturally.


Category: Courthouse

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9 Responses to Emphatically Not Wanted: Jamal Damon Barack

  1. Peter says:

    What might work for career criminals of this nature is some sort of forced-labor camp. Prison itself is not scary, but the thought of being forced to perform hard labor day after day just might be effective. Unfortunately, I don’t believe forced labor is allowed anymore, the chain gangs of yesteryear being just a memory.

    Is your choice of last name in this pseudonym coincidental?

  2. Webmaster says:

    The name is deliberately close to his real name without being exact, nothing more.

    As for the forced labor idea… I’ve a post coming in the future in which I suggest what I consider would be a far better way to handle sentencing and parole.

  3. Gannon says:

    I read somewhere that the US incarceration rate is the highest of the Western World, if not the World. Having a prisoner in jail costs the US taxpayer around 100.000 US. That’s a lot of money. Also, it surprises me that you are so concerned about a petty thief but don’t seem to care about the wallstreet sharks who steal the pensions of grandmothers through financial schemes.

  4. Webmaster says:

    First up: cleaning up the financial systems is a wholly different discussion.

    Second up: you’re damn right I’m concerned about the “petty thief” with a rap sheet that looks like a dead tree.

    Third up: I’m all for reducing the cost of keeping a prisoner, as well as reforming the jail system. A post later on will address where I feel the primary failings are, and what would be (I feel) the best fix.

    Fourth: you seem convinced leaving people out of jail is the best strategy. I’m more convinced that letting people use the jails and criminal justice system as an ongoing revolving door / income stream isn’t bright.

  5. Brandon Berg says:

    Bob Hayes makes a fairly persuasive case here for replacing prison time with corporal punishment for misdemeanors and minor felonies.

  6. Gannon says:

    -{The contents of this comment has been removed by trumwill}-

  7. trumwill says:

    Gannon, unless a post directly references the issues of statutory rape or Age of Consent laws, please do not introduce the topics into the comment section.

    Oh, and sorry about the server. It was down last weekend and will be sluggish this week as Webmaster works on implementing a better backup system.

  8. Barry says:

    I just finished “The Innocent Man” by John Grisham, a non-fiction look at the American criminal justice system (or lack thereof) in the case of a man accused of murder, convicted, sentenced to die and later released due to the massive corruption and stupidity of the Oklahoma judicial system and one of their town’s police department.

    It’s not totally germane to this post, but it has to do with how people are changed when going through the legal system – sometimes drastically, sometimes not.

    It’s also interesting to read the D.A. in the case’s refutation of the book on his own website. He takes Grisham to task for gross misrepresentation of the facts.

  9. TGGP says:

    An expert on the prison system claims that prisons try to parole the worst offenders, because for one thing, who wants having them around, and for another more recidivism means higher demand.

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