Monday, January 03, 2005

Calculus of Evil

Yesterday's New York Times Magazine had an interesting piece about a fairly revolutionary sentencing scheme that is at work in neighboring Virginia. For non-violent offenders, judges engage in a mathematical calculation to determine a defendant's propensity to commit another offense. Those that score low (good) can get probation or house arrest, while those that score high (bad) are consigned to prison. One problem with this system, as the article points out, is that one major factor in the calculus, sex (women generally reoffend at a lower rate than men), may make the whole system unconstitutional. In addition, it seems to punish the poor more harshly because it takes employment and housing factors into account. If a person's lack of employment contributes to their chances of reoffending, maybe we should focus on making sure they get a job. After all, no matter how evil they are, they'll get out of prison eventually.

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