Courtroom Kumbaya

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I read a story a while back about a poor depressed woman in the Midwest who became addicted to shopping. She was a successful woman making a six-figure salary but became so obsessed with shopping that her salary wasn't enough. The poor thing was forced to begin dipping into company funds in order to keep her luxury apartment filled with shoes and other necessities.

As it turns out, she had a horrific childhood and, with the aid of well-intentioned lawyers, was able to convince the court that she should be excused from her crimes in order to get the treatment she needed to help her overcome the emotional scars of her childhood and deal with her obsessive behavior. With treatment, no doubt, she will continue to be a pillar of the community. I started thinking...

I think we're onto something here.

We've obviously been treating the victims of emotional and physical abuse way too harshly. How can we possibly hold people accountable for their actions when others are to blame for them? Poor folks have been wrongly accused of murder, robbery and rape for years because we've been neglecting the root causes of their problems. Prisons are over-crowded. Law enforcement, prosecution and incarceration are intense drains on the public purse.

Although the initial cost would be high, if we reviewed the cases of each individual in prison and declared amnesty to those whose crimes were the result of external influences beyond their control, we would save extraordinary amounts of money in the long run. I'm certain we're talking of savings of billions of dollars. Think what a nifty tax rebate that might make in a year or two?

The downside would be that we would have to offset some of the savings into retraining disenfranchised criminal lawyers. Some of them could be converted to civil lawyers, specializing in litigation relating to disputes between citizens and their HMOs.

Other unemployed criminal lawyers could be recruited into social services. They could be tasked with enforcing the forgiveness of criminals whose crimes were mitigated by societal pressures or unhappy childhoods. Their primary task would be to aid these poor unfortunates in their reentry into the cruel world from which they were taken.

This would, of course, include people whose crimes were caused by addictions and other mental disorders that were beyond their control. In addition to shopaholics, anyone whose crime was committed under the influence of drugs or alcohol would be forgiven for sure. Sexual deviants would also be forgiven if they could prove that their deviant behavior was due to sexual abuse as children, repressed sexuality or the availability of pornography on the Internet. Naturally, any crime that could be linked to a genetic predisposition would also be forgiven. How could we hold people accountable for genetic defects?

The fact is that nearly everybody who commits a crime has a pretty good reason for having committed it. Those kids who walk into the schools and shoot their teachers and fellow students wouldn't have done it if those other kids had treated them better. Drunk drivers wouldn't wipe out entire families in car accidents if their alcoholism had been properly treated. Child molesters wouldn't rape children if they hadn't seen kiddie porn on the Internet. How can we hold people accountable for that?

I really think we need to take the example of the Shopaholic lady and apply the same principles of fairness and consideration across the board. We need to extend a universal understanding of the human condition to all criminals, not just her. Lets all get together in a big circle, hold hands, and demand the forgiveness of these poor unfortunate victims of society.

I, for one, would sleep well at night.

Jim Bennett

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March 21, 2009