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The REAL reason Wesley Snipes shouldn’t go to prison

Wesley Snipes was convicted in 2008 of three misdemeanor counts of willful failure to pay income tax returns on the $38 million he earned since 1999 and will begin his sentence tomorrow (12/9/10). Felony charges were dropped earlier in the trial.

In his appeal on CNN’s Larry King Live (video below) Snipes said, "Larry, it’s interesting…It’s presented as though I am worthy of this kind of punishment. It’s been presented as though he [Wesley Snipes] is getting his just due. Larry, I’ve been a law-abiding citizen ever since I grew up in the Bronx, NY." But what does his good work have to do with failing to file tax returns?

TV celebrity Judge Joe Brown was interviewed and supported Snipes' arrogant claim to be above the law.

I agree that Snipes should not go to prison, but my reasoning has nothing to do with whether or not he’s a good person or if he has done good work for the community. The better question is what type of sentence should he serve?

Snipes shouldn’t go to prison for one simple fact: he is not a violent or repeat offender. Does anybody in Florida, which is where Snipes lives, see him walking down the street and think, “RUN! Run for your lives! Wesley Snipes is coming!” No. The thought is laughable.

Our country has a bad habit of locking up non-violent, first-time criminal offenders. Some people are dangerous and should be put in prison for a long, long time. Then there are people who effectively steal from the government for not paying their taxes. The later should be fined, forced to pay the back taxes, sentenced to community service, or something of the sort.

These policies that use prison as the de facto response to nearly every crime are unaffordable, ineffective at deterring crime, and do nothing for victims. While the “I’m a good guy” appeal shouldn't excuse anyone of responsibility for commiting crime, we need to rethink the way we punish certain criminals.

Am I alone on this? What do you think?
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Here is the video of the interview:


Comments:

If we the fact that miraculous results can come from a specific punishment is argument for that punishment shouldn't we reinstitute crucifixion, Lee?

Personally I think the idea that being shut up with a large number of other criminals improves peoples character sounds dubious. The main justification for prisons that I can see is it keeps the worst people out of the hair of honest folk for a while.
'Grace and Chaos' Christians
Michael, my apologies. I assume that when PFM writers post a question at The Point, they may well be writing to deadline and suffering from writer's block. (It may be a totally false assumption, but for me it's a useful one.) Therefore I try to respond as quickly and briefly as I can whenever I have anything worthwhile to say, particularly if it might be a new perspective that would help the writer get "unblocked".

And, of course, some weeks I'm woefully short on time. That, too, can make my comments too brief to fully explain my position.

By the way, the last name's Quod, not Quad. I haven't been on a college campus in decades except as a visitor. ;-)

Chuck Colson became a Christian before going to prison, but by his own account his life was transformed in there and given a new purpose that the PFM ministry serves today. Now, I wouldn't wish the experience of prison on anyone, but I would also not want to deny anyone the conditions under which they might be transformed.

My hesitation in agreeing with Billy's point was not that I think even first-time nonviolent offenders should be locked up. Rather, I was wondering if Chuck Colson and others can be truly transformed by simply paying a fine and picking up litter. And even more important, it seems that the mission and vision of most of today's prisons is to warehouse people for the duration of their sentences. Imagine, in contrast, if prisons were run by Catholic priests and nuns, the way many hospitals and schools are. Do you think the nuns would be content with simply housing those prisoners, or would they want to restore and build them the way they do by restoring health to the sick and building young people into model citizens?

So I think Billy has the right idea, but I also think that simply replacing one punishment with another without considering how to help alter the life of the felon is only the first of many steps needed in the right direction. I worry that lawmakers might make this change, then think they were done with the problem.

I'd say more, but I'd rather take the time to re-read "Born Again" first. I seem to recall that Chuck Colson was "stunned" to not get a fine and community service. But because of that terrible experience, he found a new purpose for his life. What if we could do that for many more - even Wesley Snipes?

(Gina - no worries; this one is a vast improvement over my first attempt. And thanks for your concern.)
'Law and Order' Chistians
LeeQuad's response, that the world would be poorer if Chuck Colson had not gone to prison, and Billy's "awesome consideration" response, have nothing to do with the quesiton of what to do about the grave problem of the 'prison industry.'

As Chuck Colson points out, when he was in prison, there were about a quarter million prisoners, now it is ten times that. More Christians need to get behind the Justice Fellowhip proposals and get involved.
Joe W wrote However, at some point, if a nonviolent offender does not comply with the law, it seems to me that the threat of jail time would be a necessary inducement to comply with court orders.

It's the noncompliance with the orders of the court that converts the first time perpetrator of misdemeanors into a felon and one who is subject to harsher penalties. And it does seem that those who are unwilling to deal with the light penalties handed out for misdemeanors reveal themselves to be people who believe they are exempt from all the rules. I am not even sure some of these people find the prospect of prison to be any restraint. They truly believe themselves to be exempt from the rules.

If I recall, Chuck was convicted of a felony, so jail time it was. Maybe God sovereignly decreed that Chuck would be assigned by Hunt to do the felony stuff and the others guys did misdemeanor stuff, so that when it all came down Chuck would be the prison guy. It is remarkable to see lives being transformed 30 years later because of what Chuck endured.
Of course it is a convenient way to get mobsters.
I generally agree that putting nonviolent people in prison is a bad idea and a waste of space. But what happens when a nonviolent offender becomes a habitual law breaker? What if they disregard fines or penalties imposed by the courts?

I'm not suggesting that Snipes is guilty of that kind of behavior, I haven't followed the case and I don't know one way or the other.

However, at some point, if a nonviolent offender does not comply with the law, it seems to me that the threat of jail time would be a necessary inducement to comply with court orders.
Lee,
What an awesome consideration! I hadn't thought of that. I still stand by my position, of course, but it certainly makes things interesting.

Here's my question: If my policy proposal was in place in the 1970's, would we need Prison Fellowship? To some extent, yes. Violent and repeat offenders need the Gospel as much as the rest of us, but the prison population would be significantly reduced and the scope of PF's work would be narrower.

Our state governments and tax payers wouldn't be carrying the burden of inflated prison costs, either.

Great point, and thanks for sharing it!

Billy
This is extremely interesting, Billy. I haven't completely decided if I agree or disagree with your proposal, but I'm very intrigued by a particular example: If your policy had been in place in the 1970s, what would have happened to Chuck Colson? (And, by consequence, would there even be a PFM today if Chuck had not gone to prison?)