Our criminal justice system has become so convoluted that I believe that almost every single adult person in the United States could be, if prosecutors dug deep enough, be convicted of some kind of criminal violation.
The total number of Federal crimes as of the end of 2007 exceeds 4,450. That is only federal criminal laws, and does not count the number of rules and regulations under which someone could be prosecuted for God-knows-what. Add on the number of state and local laws in the 50 states and suddenly you have enough options, and enough ignorance of the law, that even with no intent you could be violating some federal, state or local law.
Bloomberg has a story out today that perhaps might shed some light into the consequences of such a plethora of laws. In a nutshell, Bloomberg tells us that the United States jails more people any other country (although I notice an absence of information on China). You can see the chart here.
But while the numbers are interesting, I was more intrigued by the following paragraph in the Bloomberg story:
“The model is, if you build it they will come,” said Daniel D’Amico, a professor of economics at Loyola University New Orleans. “Because we have all these prisons and all of these other resources funneled into our criminal justice system, we have this ability to enforce things that would otherwise be unenforceable.”
“That includes the drug war, but it’s also including everything from the Martha Stewart types to immigration policies,” D’Amico said. “The scope of things that are now criminal in corporate law is exponentially higher than it was merely twenty years ago.”
The conclusion is inescapable. The more things we criminalize, and therefore prosecute, the more prisons we build. The more prisons we build, the more things we criminalize and prosecute, filling those prisons.
We are all criminals – whether we know it or not.
The scary part is this. When you consider the vast resources of government prosecutors (think U.S. attorneys, district attorneys, special prosecutors) with virtually unlimited fiscal resources, once you become a target of a zealous prosecutor, you are more likely than not to be convicted and incarcerated.
Perhaps it’s time to rethink criminalizing everything.
Unfortunately that would require lawmakers to quit politicizing “law and order” and instead focus their priorities, spending and rhetoric.
Until then, we just keep spending more money on cases that just twenty years ago weren’t even crimes.
Excellent article from the Mises Institute that proves my point – we’re all criminals. Worth your time to read. MB