“Judges, like people, may be divided into roughly four classes: Judges with no heart – they are to be avoided at all costs; Judges with heads but no hearts – they are almost as bad; Judges with hearts but no heads – risky, but better than the first two; And finally, those rare Judges who possess both head and heart – thanks to blind luck, that’s our Judge.” Robert Traver
“….he must never judge unfairly.” Proverbs 10:10b NLT
Black-robed men and women occupy raised platforms of power, gazing down upon those charged with violating one or more of society’s laws. They have the last word in the proceedings prior to slamming the gavel down, signifying finality in the issue before the court. The sound as the gavel strikes should signal final judgment and an end to the matter, but while these proceedings may end here for those charged with enforcing and adjudicating the law, it is only the beginning for those being sentenced to what are often unconscionable lengths of time in prison.
The chain of events that brought the concerned parties together in the courtroom did not begin there by any means. Long before there is final judgment in the case of a law being broken, there is the process whereby those elected to make society’s laws determine what is, and what is not, acceptable behavior in a civilized world. State and federal legislators must use THEIR judgment to determine what laws are required, and then must decide what sort of punishment is correct – and just – in each instance.
It is here, in the beginning, where the heads AND hearts of men and women must be used in unison. It is here, in the beginning, that fairness must be the prevailing doctrine: fairness to any victims that may have been involved; fairness to the families of victims and offenders alike; fairness even to the one who broke the law; and fairness to the society to which they all belong.
This requires that the judgment of those writing the laws of this country and setting the penalties for violating them be constructive, thoughtful, purposeful, and balanced. At no point should politics, partisanship, or emotion hold any sway when determining for what reason, and for how long, an individual will be deprived of his or her freedom, family, and friends for a violation of America’s rules and regulations. Anything less than total mindfulness of the needs of all concerned demonstrates contempt for the process and should not be tolerated.
America sets itself apart from the rest of the world in many positive ways, but how America’s laws are written and the philosophy of corrections in this country are decidedly NOT among them. It is here that America demonstrates the arrogant, know-it-all attitude for which other civilized, genteel societies of the world have expressed loathing on more than one occasion.
While we can claim only 5% of the world’s inhabitants, America houses 25% of the entire world’s jail and prison population. This is NOT an insignificant fact, and one that is more closely connected to the dynamics of economics than the lawful and orderly protection of society. Despite all of the human beings who are kept in cages as one would cage animals, America can lay no claim to better records of safety for its citizens than those of other free societies who imprison individuals far less frequently and for far less periods of time.
As evidenced by the above numbers, it would appear that much of the rest of the civilized world has a vastly different philosophy regarding prison time as a deterrent to crime than does the United States. One of the areas in which there is great disparity between the U. S. and other countries of similar – or perhaps greater – levels of sophistication, civility and culture is in the sentencing of individuals convicted of possession of child pornography.
This is a problem of great sensitivity and intense emotion that has grown to catastrophic proportions in this country. There are no excuses for it; there is no justification. But an even greater tragedy for this nation as a whole is growing out of the way we are dealing with it, particularly on a federal level.
In articles published in June and July of this year, two men of similar ages and occupation were sentenced after having pleaded guilty to child pornography charges. Neither was responsible for the abuse recorded in the pictures and videos recovered. They both used computers to obtain and store the images and videos. One man is a United States citizen, the other is Canadian.
Briefly, the stories:
Michael Robert Hall, 31, from Winnipeg accessed a Yahoo.com group called ‘Perv’s Dream’ where users shared images with one another. Computers seized from Hall’s home contained over 3,300 images of children modeling and posing in addition to 19 illegal pornographic images of children between the ages of 4 and 12 engaged in degrading sexual acts with adult males.
Daniel J. Borque, 33, of Erath, La was found to have used an internet peer-to-peer site to receive child pornography. Found on computers in his home were 15 videos and 630 images.
Mr. Borque received 12 years in federal prison followed by 15 years of supervised release.
Mr. Hall was sentenced to the ‘legislated mandatory minimum’ of 14 DAYS in jail followed by 18 months probation. The prosecutor had asked for 90 days in jail.
I do not profess to have intimate knowledge of Canada’s laws or judicial processes, but the facts are stated as they were printed, so I will interpret ‘legislated mandatory minimum’ to mean just that.
The U.S. federal mandatory minimum for receipt of child pornography (and one can not logically possess it without receiving it) is 5 years in federal prison followed by a term of supervised release up to life. This is in addition to any additional charges for the possession itself, and distribution (for sharing on a peer-to-peer site even if there was no exchange of money) – both of which are commonly added charges.
Canada is generally viewed as being a safe, cultured, civil, genteel country whose inhabitants are almost universally viewed as being polite and well-mannered. One would have to think that, given the nature of Canadian society, their philosophy regarding incarceration has evolved as a result of that constructive, thoughtful, purposeful and balanced fairness that I referred to earlier. These things seem to be sorely missing from the approach employed by THIS nation’s lawmakers.
It is very unlikely that America’s indisputably disproportionate sentencing policies reflect a higher regard for human life and human dignity than that possessed by other nations such as Canada. It is also extremely unlikely that the United States can claim a greater regard for the safety of its children than they do either. No, it is more likely that the reasons for the disparities that exist are more likely to be simple political and financial greed. Of course, this would be rejected as nonsense by those who are responsible, but I see no lines to the microphones by this nations lawmakers offering explanations as to why the United States of America finds it necessary to keep more of its citizens behind bars than anyone else in the world.
Something is quite wrong.
The next article to appear here, “The Child Protection Act That Doesn’t” should serve to explain part of it, as should my upcoming series on “America’s Culture Of Incarceration”.
I thank you for your time, and may God bless you and your families.