There are a lot of interesting things to learn in this book. For example, if you are stuck on a raft in the middle of the ocean with no hope of rescue and you have to eat someone, you can’t just choose the weakest link, you have to draw straws (The Queen v. Dudley & Stephens
). I don’t think people on Survivor
know this. It should be in the handbook, though. Also, you can only use force defensively, not for revenge. If you slash your roommate’s tires, then your roommate’s boyfriend comes to burn down your bedroom, while you’re sleeping in the loft, he isn’t defending, he’s revenging. But, while he’s lighting the fire, if you shoot him with the bow and arrows you have stashed under your pillow, that’s probably defense. But then if you jump down and try to escape and he punches you, that’s revenge again, not defense. Moral = probably not a good idea to slash your roommate’s tires. Also, why did you have a bow and arrows under your pillow? (People v. Gleghorn
Before I get into my unsolvable criticisms of the American justice system, I’ll say about this book that it contains an incredibly interesting topic, and I really benefited from the commentaries and explanations; however, the structure is such a psych-out! It’ll introduce a case to start a topic and let you know with headers and font that it’s giving you a case. Then, it’ll go into commentaries and explanations and introduce, like, seven more cases before you get to the next topic. But the hidden cases have no font or heading alert. No, they’re in teeny-tiny font. It’s super sneaky and made me depressed about life. Learning the cases isn’t the most important part of criminal law, but still it was frusterating.
This has also made me think a lot about forms of and reasons for punishment. Theories of punishment include rehabilitation, deterrence, incapacitation, and retribution. The thing I have the biggest problem with is the idea, which I think exists in all of the theories of punishment, that people who commit crimes are less than citizens. I’m not saying that people should be allowed to do whatever they want (insert argument here about how that would be different from the system we have now = who knows?), but sticking people in a box where the rest of us don’t have to see them doesn’t seem like it solves a lot of the problems, either. On the other hand, I’m totally in favor of sticking my emotions in a box where we don’t have to see them. It’s different. Anyway, back to marginalizing “criminals.” With rehabilitation, the state can arbitrarily hold a prisoner, saying they’re not rehabilitated. With deterrence and incapacitation, the state assumes that crimes can’t happen in prisons, that “criminals” don’t deserve protection. With retribution, the state assumes that doing evil to a “criminal” compensates for the evil the “criminal” did and that the state’s actions are somehow inherently distinct. I use the scare quotes just to point out how we think differently of people stigmatized as criminal than those we think of as citizens and neighbors.
I’m in favor of social contracts, and I get that there are things we give up and things we receive from living in society. I just wonder if the forms of punishment we have are totally effective. I mean, I would say they’re obviously not totally effective, since we still have 7.2 million people now in the U.S. incarcerated or on probation or parole, an increase of more than 290% since 1980. 7% of that population is female. “One in nine (11.7%) black males aged 25-29 was in prison or jail in 2006, as were 1 in 26 (3.9%) Hispanic males and 1 in 59 (1.7%) white males in the same age group” (p. 23). Change starts with having healthy communities and schools, I guess, but it seems like the way we punish perpetuates the bad. It seems like a large portion of Americans live in the prison population, and the statistics make it look to me like a lot of Americans are not well served by our justice system, or politics, or economic structure, or whatever it is that causes that imbalance. I don’t have helpful suggestions, I just have a lot of criticisms.