It's one of the routine conceits of the liberal/professorial view of the world that criminal law hardliners are a bunch of cowboys/dopes/wahoos, while legal academia is laced with nuance, reflection and cool reason. If there's even a trace of embarrassment about, or even recognition of, this wonderfully self-flattering portrait, I have yet to detect it.
One of the mechanisms for polishing such a cozy view of professional life is the publication of articles in this journal or that, any number of which show up in SSRN. Publication creates the aura of scholarship -- an aura especially easy to maintain when those who do the "reviewing" share an identical, We Know Better view of the criminal justice system.
The resulting hothouse of liberal platitudes occasionally produces something so palpably absurd, however, as to become an unconscious self-parody. It happened today on Sentencing Law and Policy, which featured a gem titled, "Judge orders felons to write 5-page essays."
This was a felony sentence, mind you. A five-page paper. Personally, I would have been happy, as a seventh-grader, to be "sentenced" to write a five-page paper for coming in late from recess.
But then I'm one of the wahoos. A decidedly non-wahoo professor has a different take:
Morris Jenkins, chairman of the criminal justice and social work department at the University of Toledo, has researched alternative sentencing and restorative justice. He said that by adding requirements to offenders' probations, the court is making individuals more accountable.
Mr. Jenkins said he has not studied the effects of written papers on recidivism, but added that he'd be willing to do so. But of the research he has conducted, much of which originates in juvenile court, he has seen that alternative sentences have proven effective. "I'm glad that we have a judge with foresight and courage to do [alternative sentencing] with adult offenders," he said. "A lot of individuals deserve second chances. Not everyone but a lot of people do, and by making them do something like a paper, I guarantee they'll remember it later."
So to my fellow wahoos, I say: Please, just think a minute. Sending a crack turf enforcer to the slammer may well fall short of "restorative justice," but having him put down a few thoughts instead will make him "accountable" -- plus he'll "remember it later."
Well I bet he will! What he'll remember is that he pulled off a felony, and that the system's "response" was demanding -- demanding! -- that he write a five-page paper.
Still, I must confess, this could at least in theory have a deterrent effect. Next time, he might think to himself, it will be ten pages.