There is a push in Vermont to “decarcerate” in the name of “Restorative Justice.” Even some prosecutors argue that most people should never be incarcerated. This effort originates from the Left, which concurrently seeks to criminalize new categories of behaviors, and thereby threaten law-abiding citizens who have done no wrong with incarceration.
Last fall in Vermont, a 28-year-old woman swerved into an oncoming lane of traffic and hit a mother and her 3-year-old son head-on. Despite wearing safety restraints, the mother was severely injured; the boy was killed. The perpetrator was unbelted, and uninjured. She was also free of those societal protections which should have restrained her: she was uninsured, unlicensed, and on probation, despite 27 prior criminal convictions.
Last week in Vermont, a convicted murderer with numerous prior parole violations was released on probation and promptly removed his electronic monitoring device and fled. The public was duly cautioned:
Wheelock should be considered dangerous because of his erratic behavior and no one should approach him. If he is seen, they should contact the Vermont State Police or the Bellows Falls police or call 911… Wheelock is described as 6 feet, two inches tall, weighing 215 pounds, with blue eyes and thinning grey hair. He has a “666” tattoo on his left eyelid.
Presumably Wheelock’s tattoo was concealed so long as he kept his eyes open. The public likely kept theirs open also — instead of sleeping. The fugitive was apprehended, but the murder victim’s sister complained that she was “…disappointed Wheelock has been continually released from prison.”
Restorative justice offers victims the opportunity to meet with people who have hurt them in a safe, supported environment. Victims are given the opportunity to ask questions and find out more about what happened and why. If victims do not want to meet with those who have offended against them, Restorative Justice Panels made up of volunteers from the community work with people who have offended to help them more clearly understand the harm they committed, take responsibility for their actions and try to repair the damage done and settle the matter for everyone.
But no “Panel” can “settle the matter for everyone.” Women are raped, infants infected with anal herpes, loved ones are killed or brutally maimed. There are some injustices that government cannot “restore.”
The point here is not that criminals must be punished: it is that the public must not be exposed to risk in the furtherance of naive (if well-intentioned) “social justice” experimentation. Thomas Sowell explains this well in his 1999 tome The Quest for Cosmic Justice:
If punishment is meant to deter crime, whether by example or by putting existing criminals behind bars or in the graveyard, then mitigating that punishment in pursuit of cosmic justice presumably means reducing the deterrence and allowing more crime to take place at the expense of innocent people….
A significant amount of the violent crime committed in America is committed by career criminals who are walking the streets—and stalking the innocent—while awaiting trial. This too is one of the costs of the quest for cosmic justice.
Meanwhile, Vermont progressives invoke gun violence to incarcerate law-abiding citizens as criminals. Recent efforts seek to mandate the “safe storage” of homeowners’ defensive weapons, and to ban the public possession of firearms in churches, even as the progressive experiment traumatizes children with “active shooter drills.” Such laws would punish homeowners who kept their guns available for self defense, or pastors who armed themselves to protect their flocks — with gun confiscation and prison sentences.
This upside-down justice is unconstitutional injustice. The illogic stems from delusions of employing government to eliminate all evil, through “social justice” that does not exist. Gun control advocates say they wish to enjoy “freedom” to go out to a movie or attend church without fear, even though more people are killed in America each year by personal weapons (hands, feet, etc.) than by shotguns and rifles combined.
The government cannot provide total safety from evil, and efforts to do so seek to enslave. Wendell Berry observed in 1972:
There is no better example of this deterioration of language than in the current use of the word “freedom.” Across the whole range of current politics this word is now being mouthed as if its devotees cannot decide whether it should be kissed or eaten, and this adoration has nothing to do with its meaning. The government is protecting people by killing them or hiding microphones in their houses. The government’s opponents, left and right, wish to set people free by telling them exactly what to do. …the word has no political meaning at all; the government cannot serve freedom except negatively — “by the alacrity,” in Thoreau’s phrase, “with which it [gets] out of its way.”
(Berry, A Continuous Harmony,” pp. 128-129.)
Anthony Burgess tackled this issue in his iconic work, A Clockwork Orange, which he penned in 1961 to explore this scientific or governmental idealism to “restore justice.” Later in life he explained his novel more fully:
I have been derided and rebuked for expressing my fears of the power of the modern state—whether it be Russia, China, or what we may term Anglo-America—to reduce the freedom of the individual. Literature has warned of this power, books like Aldous Huxley’s “Brave New World” and George Orwell’s “1984,” but “sensible” people, not much moved by imaginative writing, are always telling us that we have little to worry about.
Those “sensible” people have overtaken Vermont, and their dystopian delusions are being foisted upon its citizenry with accelerating senselessness. Burgess wryly decried this scheme:
Given the right positive inducements—to which we respond not rationally but through our conditioned instincts—we shall all become better citizens, submissive to a state that has the good of the community at heart. We must, so the argument goes, not fear conditioning. We need to be conditioned in order to save the environment and the race. But it must be conditioning of the right sort.
Vermont’s progressives have set out to prove these great minds correct, by instituting the very policies Burgess, Berry and Sowell derided. Criminals are released early to heal them; citizens are threatened with arrest for seeking to protect themselves. The justice being “restored” in Vermont increasingly resembles a Mad Max sequel.
At some point the progressive experiment will collapse, as either the criminals take over or the free citizens do. It’s a battle, like in a violent movie. Burgess closed his 2012 essay thusly:
The modern state, whether in a totalitarian or a democratic country, has far too much power, and we are probably right to fear it…. We all hold in our imaginations or memories certain images of evil in which there is no breath of mitigation—four grinning youths torturing an animal, a gang rape, cold-blooded vandalism. It would seem that enforced conditioning of a mind, however good the social intention, has to be evil.
“Enforced conditioning” is being imposed in Vermont, on both criminals at large, and the larger public. The “social intention” must be questioned.