07/12/2009 05:12 am ET Updated May 25, 2011

A Simple Solution for Crime: Background


I've been wondering why some of my postings draw no comments, and a rather tedious one, "Why is there No National Energy Policy?" attracts more than a hundred. My first year with the Huffington Post focused on energy, the environment and the economy, more or less the subject of my first book, Simple Solutions for Planet Earth (Book 1).

My second book, Simple Solutions for Humanity (Book 2), wanders into crime, religion, eternal life, the search for extraterrestrial intelligence and the more sociological areas. I'm curious whether these subjects can entice a few more to comment, not for the sake of a response, but to catalyze an effort to advance our society.

So, I'll start with what might well be the most controversial of all, a simple solution to crime. Remember, we place more of our citizens in jail than any other country, and are now faced with what to do with Guantanamo. There is an opportunity here to institute significant change from the current non-functional norm.


Draco wrote the first constitution of Athens. His laws were severe, as a debtor became a slave and there was death for even minor offenses. In time, this form of punishment became known as Draconian. The solution to crime might well suit this term, and is from Chapter 1 of Book 2.

There is almost universal agreement that the best way to prevent crime is through careful upbringing and the education process. Every care and any reasonable expense should be expended to mold a solid citizen. Unfortunately, there will still be crimes.

Civilization has exacted a range of punishments over time. In Exodus 21:23-27, an "eye for an eye" provided the principle of proportionate punishment. Equitable retaliation was the belief. This same concept is presented in the Code of Hammurabi. Of benefit to the criminal, this type of law prevents excessive punishment. The Quran actually urges the victim to accept a lower compensation, if not totally forgive, with an unwritten promise of a later reward, such as, perhaps, paradise. Martin Luther King has been quoted to say, "the old law of an eye for an eye leaves everyone blind."

Fair enough, as everyone makes a mistake now and then. If the crime can be forgiven, fine, now do everything possible to remediate that person. Be protective, be reformative. Rehabilitate. Much more can be done here.

Then, for some, a second crime is committed and there is another conviction. Now what? Is there a way to prevent habitual offenses? Do longer and longer prison sentences make sense? Maybe, but the cost factor troubles me.

Alas there is that third strike. Chaperoned, air-conditioned comfort, for life?

In baseball, if you get three strikes, you are out. In parts of the U.S., with three strikes, or convictions, you are in, jail, that is, maybe even for a long time, perhaps life. This is a relatively new concept, which started in the state of Washington in 1993 and California the following year, with three felonies and you're in prison for 25 years to life.Their prisons are now overbooked by more than a factor of two.

Kevin Weber was sentenced to 26 years to life for stealing four chocolate chip cookies (actually, that was only the evidence from a robbery). There are hundreds of shoplifters in prison for 25 years or more, one who stole a $3 magazine. Les Miserables? Many of our prisons now hold double the designed capacity, and more. And, you're paying for all this. Is there a better way?

More than half of the states now have some form of Three Strikes and You're Out law. In March 5, 2003, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that this was not "cruel and unusual punishment."

According to a 2005 report of the National Crime Victims' Rights Week, crime costs Americans somewhere in the range of $500 billion annually. However, in 1999, David Anderson published in the Journal of Law and Economics a paper outlining that the net burden of crime in the U.S. was $1.7 trillion per year, or $5667 for each person in the country. This did not include the physical pain, long-term mental anguish and general fear anyone has about stepping out at night and such. Wouldn't it be wonderful if we could just eliminate this compromise in our daily life forever? The savings of more than $2 trillion/year would be wonderful, but just the lifestyle enhancement alone would be huge.

Here is my problem with Three Strikes and You're In Jail for a Long Time. As legally necessary as keeping someone in jail for the rest of his life might be, I think it is not worth my tax dollars. Does this mean I am against the concept of keeping criminals away from me? No, I like this, only, let us be truly sensible, maybe, even draconian. First, do we want a better educational system or should we build more prisons? Second, isn't it cruel, anyway, to keep someone locked up for a lifetime? Third, how, really, can we actually best prevent that fourth crime.

Regarding the economics, there are studies that show it is cheaper to keep someone in jail for long periods than the judiciary cost of capital punishment. Then, there are other studies that disagree. I call for improving the efficiency of that third and terminal judgment.

While the California Three (felony) Strikes and You're Out law is already controversial, in Part 2 to come of this series, found in the 13June09 issue, I offer a Three (any crime) Strikes and You're Dead concept for consideration as an ultimate solution for crime.