A man is sent to prison. He stays his time. After being released he’s required to fulfill additional stipulations. Due to financial restrictions, which isn’t an uncommon restrictions for people getting out of a cage, he is unable to fulfill those stipulations. As a result he’s sentenced again and returns to prison.
What I’ve described is effectively a way for the State to imprison somebody for life for any crime. Jonathan Earl Brown probably isn’t most people’s idea of an upstanding person. He, at 26 years-old, was caught in bed with a 15 year-old girl. He was then sentenced to prison. It would be easy to toss him aside but justice is supposed to be blind so the situation he finds himself in should be analyzed separately from his person. And his situation is what I described in the opening paragraph:
After serving nearly two years for criminal sexual contact with a minor, Brown, 26, enrolled at Minneapolis Community and Technical College and began searching for a stable job and a place to live.
But just four months into his probation, Brown was sent back to prison. His offense: failing to enter sex offender treatment that he could not afford.
Attorneys and therapists say his case has exposed a major gap in Minnesota’s system of treatment for the nearly 1,600 convicted sex offenders who live under supervision in the community after leaving prison.
In Minnesota, sex offenders are often ordered by local judges to pay for their own treatment as a condition of probation. Yet many walk out of prison too broke to afford the co-payments. Brown was homeless, jobless and so destitute that his probation officer suggested he sell his blood to cover his $42 co-payment, court records show.
Last month a state appeals court panel upheld the revocation of Brown’s probation, triggering denunciations by prisoner advocates and public defenders.
People often like to bring up the recidivism rate amongst sentenced criminals as evidence that criminal behavior is something inherent in certain individuals. What is often ignored is the almost insurmountable odds many criminals face when they get out of prison. Prison sentences are supposed to be a means in which criminals can repay their debt to society (it’s a nonsense collectivist ideal since one cannot owe anything to an abstract idea such as society, but bear with me). Once that debt is repaid they’re supposedly free to return to their life. But most people who have served a prison sentence come out penniless and have few, if any, prospects for a job.
When you have nothing to survive on and you’re effectively blacklisted from legitimate work what are you supposed to do? Is it not feasible that many people who have been sentenced for a crime end up reverting to their previous criminal activity, such as drug dealing, because they have no other prospects?
Now imagine somebody like Brown who not only has nothing to survive on but must meet financial obligations just to remain outside of the State’s cages. He’s being required to fulfill criteria that he cannot fulfill and is being punished for it. Is this justice? If so, what’s to stop a judge from perpetually returning somebody to prison by knowingly placing an unmeetable probational burden on them?