I wanted to share with you a column I submitted to our local papers. Please let me know what you think, I welcome your comments and feedback.
Hope you had a great Thanksgiving, and are staying safe on the slick roads.
Rep. Jerry Hertaus
PUNISHMENT AND COLLATERAL DAMAGE
By Representative Jerry Hertaus
Punishment is intended to change conduct or social behavior into conformance with societal expectations.
Unfortunately, there is alarming evidence that many of our “get tough on crime” policies have been nothing less than a failure. Recent data suggests that we have been creating a vicious cycle of despair for an ever-increasing percentage of our population whom should be aspiring to lift themselves, their families and dependents from desperation and poverty.
Would you be surprised to learn that one out of every four Minnesotan’s has a criminal record and that one in twenty-six is under direct correctional supervision and control in Minnesota? Three decades ago the ratio was 1:98. Minnesota ranks 8th in our nation for having the highest number of citizens under direct correctional supervision.
These alarming statistics disclose a significant rise in the criminalization of social behavior and activity of individuals being punished by laws or rules. Worse, many of the conditions proscriptive by law and rules implemented by agencies or departments often necessitates an offender to risk breaking yet more laws and rules in order to simply to meet other responsibilities to care for themselves or for their own family and dependents.
For many, prosecution of certain infractions results in collateral damage and unintended consequences. Too many in our society are simply victim of a vicious cycle which perpetuates their correctional supervision, makes it difficult to leave correctional supervision and denies future opportunities for employment and advancement in career. In addition, many individuals find it very difficult once in the laws snare, to break free of the nagging reputation of a criminal record.
Many who are reading this article, may have been past denied a job promotion because of an offense which may have been many years ago. There are huge social costs to taxpayers from laws and rules which force these individuals to rely upon yet more government programs, services and dependency. For those of us whom have never had to suffer the consequences of the law it may be easy to proclaim “simply don’t break the law”. The facts are, many of us regularly and unknowingly break laws and simply do not realize we are breaking the law. Most never get caught.
Regrettably, in an age of information and technology, the speed in which information flows from all media and government agencies, it is difficult to protect your record and reputation even if you are not guilty. We have always held a presumption of innocence until proven guilty. Your public record is another matter. Even if you may prevail and found not guilty, your charge still remains on your record, even if wrongfully charged. To expunge your record of a charge or crime is yet another costly and lengthy procedure costing thousands of dollars and most do not possess the treasure, time or energy to pursue this option.
Our court system in terms of case loads is overwhelmed with alcohol and minor drug consumption and/or possession charges. There are many egregious rules and penalties for which common sense dictates change is sorely needed. For example: You can be required to display “whiskey-plates” upon your titled vehicle even if you were not the offender; be required to pay outrageous reinstatement fees without payment options, thus suffering further criminal prosecution for driving without a valid license; be required to maintain interlock devices upon your vehicle in excess of your probation; insurance companies dictate to employers who they can hire to operate their company vehicles, and the list of pitfalls can go on ad-nauseum. Is one in four Minnesotan’s having a criminal record a sign of lawlessness or a symptom of an overly punitive system?
We should agree that certain laws, rules and procedures which do not threaten public safety should be reviewed, changed or repealed, in order that offenders may be quickly mainstreamed to becoming a productive member of society by granting redemption, forgiveness of the individual’s own dignity. It is often said, “ the devil is in the details”. Many rules are at the expense of our individual liberties. Passing laws which grant too much control to state departments, agencies and commissioners with rule-making authority that carry the force of law, should not continue without greater legislative oversight, especially where seemingly a few rules have the potential to irreparably harm a citizen’s chances for career, opportunity and advancement into the future. Is it our intention to punish individuals, their dependents and families with impunity for a lifetime?
Constituent letters, phone calls, defense attorneys and probation officers tell me that the Department of Public Safety would be a good place to begin such oversight.