Civil Punishment Begins When the Criminal Punishment Ends

Civil Punishment for Tennessee sex offenders follows even after the criminal charges have ceased, and the offender has paid his or her dues to society. Must these individuals simply crawl in a hole and die before people are satisfied? I don’t want to minimize their offenses or the pain that they have caused others, but even murderers are treated better upon release. Sending defendants to prison is simply no longer sufficient — we have to send them a message that they are never to be welcomed back into society, potentially making him or her more dangerous and/or more likely to re-offend.


New law gives neighborhood associations teeth, says The Commercial Appeal

Read the story here about the Neighborhood Protection Act, approved April 20 by the Tennessee General Assembly.


“Once Gov. Bill Haslam signs the bill into law, neighborhood and condominium associations, neighborhood watch groups and similar organizations will be able to file restraining orders against someone who commits three or more thefts, burglaries, rapes or murders in the area defined in the group’s charter.

The law, which was carried in the House by Rep. Antonio “2 Shay” Parkinson, D-Memphis, will not apply to crimes committed before the law’s approval and the orders — unless extended by a judge — end after a year.” (The Commercial Appeal, May 3, 2015).

Does this remind anyone of the movie Minority Report, when “PreCrime” would arrest individuals before they committed a future crime? Why else would we need to ban them from their neighborhood for their past behavior, unless we’re certain that they can never be rehabilitated?

Or how about the failed “Three Strikes Policies” that most people have now acknowledged to be wrong-headed and a complete policy failure? Does Rep. Parkinson not know that the Tennessee Sentencing Scheme already increases the penalties for an individual who continues to commit further felonies?

If a person breaks the law and is convicted, then he or she should be punished in accordance with the sentence for that particular statute. But when was jail not sufficient? Why now, must we continue to pursue the person after he or she has completed a jail sentence and now plans to return home? When is the debt to society paid?

It began with sex offenders, then meth users, animal abusers, and other convicted felons, but now it could be a person who has committed three misdemeanor thefts under $500. Instead of trying to find ways to push these individuals away from family, social structure, and their home, a better policy than the Neighborhood Protection Act would be this one: hate the sin and love the sinner.

Even as the nation begins to question economically-burdensome and non-reformative massive incarceration — especially given its unequal application of those sentences to African American males, there is a dangerous trend of greater registration, greater public shaming, and greater collateral consequences of criminal conviction in the civil arena. It seems that sending defendants to prison is simply no longer sufficient — we have to send them a message that they are never to be welcomed back into society.

Though various civil remedies, we now seize their assets, declare them a habitual this-and-that, compel them to pay penalties to various social causes, take away their ability to run for office or vote, and create additional criminal statutes or violate their probation if they fail in regard to any of these civil measures.

We must ask ourselves what will become of the individual who believes he or she can never carve a life out by integrating back into society and respecting its norms, and what will become of the community that insists on advancing such measures.