Unintended Consequences

During the summer of 1971, my Dad and I decided to drive 40 miles, one way, twice each week, to go to a health club. He wanted to lose weight, and I wanted to gain weight. This was the first health club either of us had ever known and we were inspired to remake ourselves. We also felt a sense of urgency because health clubs might very well be a passing fad and we didn't want to miss out.

After 6 weeks he had gained 5 pounds, and I had lost 5 pounds--certainly not what we had intended. He had eaten more because he was working out, and I ate less because I was working out during the time I had been eating. It apparently never occurred to me that I might want to eat at a different time probably because my mind was otherwise focused on a brown eyed girl in our town. Apparently multitasking was/is not my spiritual gift. Nonetheless, this little endeavor was my first introduction to the Law of Unintended Consequences. We had good intentions, but the ensuing consequences were unexpectedly influenced by unforeseen factors and certainly unintended.

Our federal prison system is the poster child for unintended consequences. Consequences of a failed War on Drugs and well meaning, but misguided, DC politicians wanting to appear tough on white collar crime. A perfect example is federal prison camps. Every inmate at every federal prison camp should be sent home immediately. Any politician who has looked at the federal prison system would have to know that. Every warden and every Bureau of Prisons administrator knows it. Certainly the Attorney General knows it. Those inmates pose no threat to society. They're being warehoused at great expense to a federal government who can't afford it.

Drug offenders serve sentences that are too long, and get little re-entry training or assistance. When they leave prison and are fortunate enough to get a minimum wage job but can't pay rent or child support, what are they going to do? Bingo. Many go back to what they know. That's not the consequence anyone intended. No doubt the Department of Justice also likes to boast about the restitution they access against white collar criminals, but how much of that do they actually collect? Punitive sentences and frivolously unproductive collections during incarceration, make it all but impossible for restitution to ever be repaid when white collar criminals leave prison. Again, that's not what anyone wants.

As a society, we tend to think good intentions are enough. We also look for easy answers to complex issues. Those who have looked closely at the federal prison system know that our politician's good intentions have created some very costly, misguided and unintended consequences.

And that's the news AND COMMENTARY for today from Bastrop Federal Satellite Camp, where I'm still working out and still losing weight.