Friday, June 09, 2006

Consequences of criminal conduct

I've got a couple of clients dealing with the consequences of their actions. One is facing a long prison term. The other will be out soon, but discovered a different kind of problem the other day.

His wife and young son visited him. He had talked with both on the phone some in the last couple months, but for some reason the authorities made it nearly impossible for him to call them. He and his wife continued to communicate by letter, but his communication with his son was virtually cut off.

So when his son visited him, he would not talk to his father. They only had 30 minutes for the visit, which was not enough time for the son to warm up, so the visit ended without any genuine contact between them.

This was clearly a crushing experience for the father.

It's something I don't think occurs to a lot of people who get involved in crime. They have some sense that they might go to jail, but they generally are unaware of how their actions might affect their family.

While I am in a sense criticizing my client, I'm more concerned with how our criminal process (I will not call it a criminal justice system since it is so unjust) fails to recognize these family consequences and fails to make efforts to preserve family relationships.

It's a common problem in New York. A downstate man gets arrested, convicted, and eventually shipped to an upstate prison. Five hours away from NYC, with virtually no meaningful public transit. And the inmates can only call home collect, at exorbitant rates. You would think the families could get a toll free number, but the inmates are not allowed to call toll free numbers. Why? Because that would cut into the prison's revenue from the collect-call scam.

If you were ever looking for a worthwhile charity, look into Prison Families of New York.

You may be the kind of person who wants to punish criminals, but do you really want to punish their families too?

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