Should Jails be Punishment?

Yesterday I called in to Keene’s open-phones local news show, Talkback, after the main host, Cynthia Georgina suggested jail telephone systems were too expensive. She didn’t understand why such an expense was necessary where jails are ‘supposed to be punishment’.

In the program, we were only able to touch on a few aspects of her belief, when there’s so much that could be said about that mentality. People who are not affected by jails can fail to recognize the unnecessary strain on human life created by conditions of caging. In the nation that has 25% of the world’s institutionalized inmates, it is still easy to ignore the plight of others when they are removed from sight and mind.

Staff photo by Don HimselThe state prison, ConcordBecause Cynthia was specifying jails, she was endorsing punishment of people held for either misdemeanor convictions (facing a penalty of under a year of incarceration) or those being detained pending trial. Detention pending trial could simply mean one is too poor to afford bail, or that they were in violation of any number of stringent bail conditions. When I brought up that New Hampshire jails are occupied by a large number of individuals convicted of driving infractions, Cynthia was surprised, unaware of the mandatory minimum prison sentence written into state law for those designated habitual offenders.

Dale and Cynthia leaped to the point that driving infractions are sometimes dangerous. This is true enough, but New Hampshire law does not discriminate between a lost license over a speeding ticket versus an aggravated DUI. Enough rolling stop violations can get your license taken from you, and if you drive thereafter, you will spend a minimum seven days in jail. Drive following the conviction, and your misdemeanor just became a felony, and a mandatory year in state prison. While there is a provision allowing for the sentence to be served through home confinement, the exception is only granted if the offender has served a consecutive 14-day period in state custody.

I wonder if, in saying that people in jails should be punished by not having access to telephones, Cynthia failed to see how punishing an involuntary incarceration already is.

Something else to consider about New Hampshire’s license suspension laws is that,

Evidence that the notice of suspension or revocation was sent to the person’s last known address as shown on the records of the division shall be prima facie evidence that the person was notified of the suspension or revocation.

Which means that it is not unheard of that someone is pulled over for a menial driving infraction, and finds themselves in handcuffs for driving after revocation. Fortunately the law is not so stringent as to tie these two offenses together into a habitual offense, which indicates an infraction following a primary conviction of operating after revocation.

So just in case it was not clear, you can go to prison on a felony charge just for racking up enough victimless driving violations and continuing to drive. In 2013, should cages continue to be used for such purposes?

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  1. The segment displays the popular ignorance of the unjustice system.

  2. NH has probably one of (if not the) toughest habitual offender (HO) law in the country:

    (The law defining what makes one a “habitual offender”)

    (The law requiring the (usually) mandatory sentence of 1-year)

    So long as one of the convictions in the last five years that made someone a HO is a DWI or a misdemeanor/felony under NH’s motor vehicle laws, they’re getting the mandatory jail sentence.

    (That’s what section III. of 262:23 says.)

  3. If a person drives recklessly, putting others in imminent danger, and will not cease to do so, I think jail is reasonable.

    Jail for rolling through stop signs or slight speeding, however, is wrong in my opinion, no matter how many times the infractions are repeated. Jail for driving without documentation is also wrong.

    Jail is for people who pose an imminent danger to other people.


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