The progressive liberals’ embrace of Zero Tolerance policies has created a class of the living dead who merely exist having to live under constant state supervision due to minor technical violations of the law.
When they first appeared on the political scene, Zero Tolerance policies sounded like a wonderful idea to combat the threat of rising crime amid the slippery slope degeneration of American society. America first enacted a Zero Tolerance policy towards drug use as the last desperate option of going nuclear in the failing War on Drugs.
The plan was to crack down on even the most minor recreational drug use as companies began requiring drug testing in an effort to link the ability to work with the ability to refrain from illegal drug use. Americans were expected to shun drugs in favor of employment while drying up the demand for illegal drugs to put drug cartels out of business. The first fatal flaw in this plan was the fact that a significant portion of American employment exists in the unregulated underground economy that deals in cash and has the luxury of completely ignoring the Zero Tolerance drug policy. The second flaw is that clever Americans merely took advantage of the loophole for prescription drugs to become addicted to pharmaceutical painkillers as their drug of choice.
However, the Zero Tolerance drug policy was successful enough to ensnare a significant portion of illegal drug users who promptly proceeded to fill our prison system to capacity and beyond. Suddenly, the prisons meant to hold the most dangerous societal misfits such as murderers and rapists, were overflowing with minor drug users who only a short time before were the stock characters in Cheech & Chong comedy routines.
Along the same time that Zero Tolerance drug policies were getting cemented into place, Congress dramatically upped the mandatory sentencing requirements for all drug offenses. Meant to compliment the Zero Tolerance drug policies, their effect was to not only fill our prisons with minor drug offenders, but to ensure that they remained in prison for a great many years. We began to see minor drug offenders handed stiffer sentences than murderers.
Zero Tolerance drug policies and mandatory minimum sentencing removed any ability to consider circumstances by the judicial system. Once caught in the system, a defendant had no chance for leniency for even the most minor drug offense. Judicial bureaucrats processed offenders with no compassion as they were no longer required to think for themselves or consider circumstances. The American justice system has become an assembly line where defendants are merely processed with very few chances to stop the line.
It is obvious to even the most casual observer that someone caught with a couple of joints is not in the same class of criminals as a vicious murderer, yet they are often both sentenced to long terms as felons in maximum security prison systems where they serve their time together. This pattern has been repeated for sex offenders and many other classes of criminals. An 18-year old who sleeps with his 16-year old girlfriend may technically be guilty of statutory rape in many jurisdictions, but he is obviously not in the same league as a middle-aged man who molests preteen children.
Yet, the 18-year old is required to register as a sex offender and have his picture published in the paper for the community to see without the circumstances of his crime exactly like the middle-aged child molester. Those seeing their ads in the paper never seek the details, but merely think the worst. They never stop to think how easy it might be for them to land in similar circumstances, nor realize how little ability they have to rectify that situation once involved.
The progressives have pushed Zero Tolerance policies as a panacea to the increased crime resulting from their efforts to undermine American society with violent entertainment in the form of movies and video games, pornography blasted at us in movies and even on television, and the self-indulgent narcissism exhibited by our over pampered youth. Government bureaucrats love these Zero Tolerance policies as they remove any pretense of them having to think for themselves by considering circumstances. They can’t be held accountable for lapses as long as they can point to the fact that they followed the rules regardless of how ridiculous those rules are. The process is streamlined and devoid of compassion, and all pretense of innocence is thrown out the window to speed processing.
Meanwhile, the system produces an increasing number of minor offenders who are sentenced to a life of being ostracized as a societal outcast. It is no longer enough in America for one to merely serve their sentence, regardless of how unfair that sentence might have been. One must now be forever branded as a sex offender and denied a place to live or a drug offender and denied employment. Before, it was always a hindrance to have a criminal record, but now that record is not merely public, it’s publicized and put in front of everyone.
There exist serious drug offenders and serious sex offenders who must be caught and punished. In the case of serious sex offenders, state supervision and monitoring is a reasonable policy to pursue for public safety. However, Zero Tolerance policies have ensnared many minor offenders whose inclusion with hardened and dangerous criminals is an affront to common sense. Our ability to distinguish between those criminals truly deserving of our approbation and those minor offenders merely caught up in the system through circumstances is removed by Zero Tolerance policies that are neither fair nor allow for compassion and consideration of circumstances.
We’ve tried these policies and see the evidence of their failures. It’s time to admit that Zero Tolerance policies were an idea with good intentions that turned out to have serious implementation flaws. It’s time to restore sanity and common sense to our judicial system to ensure that truly hardened criminals are segregated from society while those who make a minor mistake have the chance to make amends without it destroying their lives.