by Simon Black, Sovereign Man:
During the winter of 1796, a Frenchman named Eugene Francois Vidocq was sentenced to eight years of hard labor after being convicted of document forgery.
It was a remarkably harsh punishment for a non-violent crime, especially in Vidocq’s case as there was not even a victim.
Yet this took place during the chaos that ensued after the French Revolution. The scars from the Reign of Terror still remained.
Long sentences were typical, and Vidocq could have just as easily been put to the guillotine. There were countless other examples just like him.
Victor Hugo’s protagonist Jean Valjean from Les Miserables is loosely based on Vidocq.
In the novel, Valjean is sentenced to five years in prison for stealing a loaf of bread so that his family wouldn’t starve.
It wasn’t much better in the rest of Europe.
By the end of the 1700s in England, the number of capital offences stood at 220.
Back then you could be hanged for stealing any item worth more than 12 pence, about $20 in today’s money.
This is one of the many reasons why so many peasants fled their home countries in Europe to come to America.
America stood for liberty and opportunity… not oppression and punishment.
In fact, the US Constitution even had special amendments forbidding cruel and unusual punishment, and enshrining fairness, justice, and due process.
And the Constitution itself only listed three original federal crimes: counterfeiting, treason, and piracy.
But a lot has changed over the past two centuries.
Today there are thousands of federal crimes, not to mention countless rules and regulations at federal, state, and local levels that carry jail time.
There’s the case of Palo Alto resident Kay Leibrand, for example, a 61-year old cancer patient and grandmother who was arrested a few years ago because her xylosma bushes were more than two feet tall.
Or Ansche Hedgepeth, a young girl who was arrested in Washington DC for eating French fries at a metro station when she was just 12-years old.
Or George Norris, a 67-year old grandfather in poor health who was sentenced to 17-months in prison for importing orchids without the proper paperwork.
Mr. Norris’s health continued to decline as he was not able to receive proper treatment while in prison.
Over the weekend I read a particularly disturbing story about a man named Shannon Hurd.
Hurd had suffered from a severe drug addiction and had had a few run-ins with the law, including illegal possession of a firearm, and “theft over $500”.
Several years ago he was convicted of robbery for stealing $14 and given a life sentence in a maximum-security prison.
Hurd eventually developed kidney cancer and received pitiful treatment; he died in prison two weeks ago.
Hurd may not have been a model citizen, but it leaves me questioning whether that was true justice.
Then there’s Glenn Ford, who spent 30-years in prison for a crime he didn’t commit.
He was eventually exonerated and released, though the state of Louisiana denied him any compensation for three decades of wrongful imprisonment.
Ford died shortly after his release due to cancer that had gone untreated while he was in prison.
It would be disgusting to hear about such stories in central Africa or Uzbekistan.
The fact that these conditions exist in the Land of the Free is absolutely appalling.
According to statistics from the Justice Department, there are nearly 2.2 million inmates in the US prison system today, with an additional 4.5 million on parole or probation.
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