Hamilton Herald Masthead


Front Page - Friday, November 7, 2014

Thank a vet

View From The Cheap Seats

William O. "Bill" James, Jr.

The world is a pretty messed up place. The only reason you got up today and did not have a war zone in your front yard is the men and women in uniform that have stood watch over the country and the rest of the world for over 200 years. It’s this time of year that we specifically take time to thank those that have served our country in the past. Make sure you thank one today.

Justice is not a for-profit business

Lately, there has been a lot in the news about private prisons. The impetus for those that push the idea is that for-profit corporations can run prisons better than the government and still make a profit. I can see how that could be true, but only to the extent that “better” is defined as “cheaper.” In a world with limited resources, “cheaper” is always “better” as long as that’s the only issue. When constitutional, or should I say human rights are an element of the decision making process, “cheaper” is certainly not always “better.”

It’s easy to proclaim that prisoners should sleep on a hard floor and eat nothing but gruel during incarceration. Those in that camp might even proclaim that even that is better than prisoners deserve. I see two major problems with people who believe this way: First, most of those that believe this have a completely different view on these matters when it’s them or their loved one that finds themselves incarcerated. It’s very easy to be mean to people you don’t know or don’t like. Second, the United States of America, the world’s self proclaimed leader in the area of human rights, should be an example of how to punish humanely, not cheaply.

Accepting that, for what ever reason, the United States of America incarcerates its citizens at a higher rate any other industrialized country, we should at least do the incarcerating in a humane fashion. As great as capitalism is, for-profit organizations will only care about the well being of those they are paid to house to the extent they have to in order to stay in business. 

Unfortunately for the folks getting housed, their voice in the halls of government is but a whisper, and the only way they can get anyone to watch over them and prevent violations is the filing of law suits. We all know the speed with which the legal system works. You can easily imagine a fact scenario in which prisoner rights could be violated egregiously for years before the claim made it far enough into the court system to stop the unconstitutional treatment. 

No one is saying the government doesn’t violate prisoner rights on a fairly regular basis, but the introduction of a profit motive into the equation of incarcerating those that break the laws of the country is nothing but fertilizer on the problem.

While fiscal responsibility is a must, and nobody wants wasteful government spending, we owe it to each other to treat the lowest among us with respect and dignity. If we are going to lock them up, we need to adequately fund the incarceration. If our country is locking up too many people, we need to take a hard look at ourselves and reverse the trend. It’s hard to believe that privatizing the punishment of human beings will ever truly be a good thing for anybody other than the owners of the facility.

Hog mild

I was in Northwest Arkansas the other day discussing the Hogs with a lifelong friend. While we agreed that the Razorbacks seemed to be heading in the right direction, and might even win a conference game this year, my friend opined that he never wants to play horseshoes with the coach. I ask why, and he said, “Because even though he’d never hit the ringer, he’d always be very close.” Sometimes in life, close is good enough. Sometimes, it’s not.

I’m looking forward to the Hogs playing LSU Saturday in Fayetteville. I hope we win. Sometimes in life, hope is all you have, and sometimes, it’s all you need to get through the tough times. That’s true for everyone, especially those of us way up in he CHEAP SEATS!

Bill James is a criminal defense lawyer with offices in Little Rock, Conway, and Fayetteville, Arkansas. He does not like liver and refuses to eat it. He can be contacted at Bill@JamesFirm.com.