Douwe Osinga's Blog: Democracy and jail terms

Saturday, June 12, 2004

Democracy and jail terms

Long time no post - working at Google is nice but takes a lot of time and energy. And you get to do a lot of new stuff, so that kind of directs your creativity. It's an amazing place to work, great tech, food, drinks & culture. And they're always looking for more smart people, so if it seems like something for you, drop me a line.

Wireless Internet is far more common here than at home. Google provided me with a nice laptop and I can connect at lots of places, either because a caffe offers it to its customers or some random guy just has opened his ADSL line for everybody to share. I'm typing this outside a very nice coffee shop. Coffee, sunshine and Internet - pretty close to geek heaven.

I was thinking about why prison terms are much harsher here than they are back home. Partly it is culture of course, everything is more harsh here. You get great opportunities, but if you fall off the cliff, no one is going to safe you. It's your life and your call to make something of it.

But the other thing is democracy. American is more democratic than the Netherlands in that more things get to decided by the people. One of the those things are prison terms. In the Netherlands parlement proposes the maximum terms, but the actual terms are decided by judges and the prosecutor is also independent and these people tend to set relatively low sentences. In America, congress sets minimun sentences and prosecutors are elected directly by the people.

Never mind that the prison system is broken, people usually want longer terms for criminals. You're just not going to win elections when you insist that the poor murderers spent too long in jail. So is the Dutch system better? Not really.

The thing of course is that putting people in jail doesn't help at all. So putting him away for longer at least hides the problem better than letting them go after a few years and then putting them back when they commit their next crimes.