A Texas man … was arrested for failing to return an overdue library. … In October , police were called to Enck’s Copperas Cove, Texas, apartment on an unrelated disturbance charge, but arrested Enck after finding a past warrant for an unreturned GED study guide. He was released on a $200 bond, then requested time-served. Enck, who has since returned the book, said he couldn’t bring it back initially because he was in prison. He checked it out before beginning a 3-year sentence for robbery. …
[M]any communities faced with shrinking budgets and rising costs have ordinances calling for fines or even arrest warrants when library property isn’t returned. In Texas alone, the issue has cost libraries an estimated $18 million. (source)
When exactly did we forget that criminal punishment in general, and incarceration in particular, are about incapacitation and the protection of society? I guess we should all feel safer now, knowing this dangerous criminal is off the streets. And while this may be a rare case, over-incarceration is an endemic problem. Scores of people who are no threat whatsoever to no one are put in jail for petty crimes. Almost one in very 100 Americans is in jail.
I personally blame misguided ideas about deterrence and retribution. A fine, community service or some other “alternative” punishment doesn’t seem appropriate to people who believe punishment should fit the crime and deter future crime. Maybe if we understand that deterrence is a hopeless ideal and retribution is incoherent can we kick our prison addiction. But I won’t hold my breath.
Other posts in this series are here.