The Deprivation Of Liberty


Many years ago when I was a federal prosecutor in Los Angeles I found myself waiting at a red light while walking over to the Federal Building Cafeteria for lunch when a judge widely known for his harsh sentencing came up beside me. When I greeted him and asked how his day was going, he surprised me by saying “Jim, Mondays are always hard because they are sentencing days.” Without pausing at all to reflect on who I was or who he was, I responded “In many ways, Your Honor, when it stops being hard you will be in the wrong job.” What followed thereafter was an awkward silence.

But to this day I stand by that comment. To deprive people of their Liberty should always hurt – and mostly be done as a last resort. Yes, we certainly need jails and prisons, and short periods of confinement are useful in getting people’s attention and enforcing responsibility. But in too many ways, and for too many decades, we have become a mindlessly punitive society. Of course, some people like Sirhan Sirhan and Charles Manson should never get out of prison due to their crimes. And, regretfully, some people who see the rest of us as their natural prey should be removed from society. But a large number of people are in prison today who simply should not be there. Geriatrics who couldn’t throw their walkers at us, even if they tried. Many non-violent offenders who deserved to be deprived of their Liberty for five years or maybe even ten who are now model prisoners serving sentences of 20 or even 30 years. (Close your eyes and imagine serving even one year in prison, much less five or more!) In imposing those mindlessly draconian sentences we have made victims not only of the offenders, but also their families – and the taxpayers! In fact, mostly the only people winning from these decisions are the members of the prison guards unions! No, Your Honor, depriving people of their Liberty should never be done lightly. And it should always hurt!

Judge Jim Gray (Ret.)
2012 Libertarian candidate for Vice President, along with
Governor Gary Johnson as the candidate for President