Seven Years In: Does the Federal Criminal Code Make Sense?


Anis Vijay Modi
Staff Writer

On Aril 17, 2013, a Virginia man received a seven-year prison sentence for stealing a White House van full of communication equipment, including President Obama’s speakers and teleprompter. Even though the stolen vehicle was not marked from the outside, it is clear that Eric Brown, the felon, knew what he was doing. According to Time’s Newsfeed, Brown received more than the normal three-year punishment for theft thanks to a rap sheet longer than most of our lives, dating back almost three decades. Even still, stealing Obama’s teleprompter probably was not a smart decision.

After already being wanted by the local police for drug-related charges, stealing a vehicle out of the President’s convo was not the best career choice. Bad idea. However, Brown was sentenced to a whopping seven years for stealing some sound equipment. That’s some serious jail time. Is seven years too harsh? This case is not just about a man too stupid to realize his own mistakes, it also sheds light on the defects of the American prison system—and there are a lot of them.

The fact that the United States prides itself on being an international symbol of freedom and liberty contradicts its criminal procedures. It has the world’s highest incarceration rate, one that is significantly higher than that of Russia and Rwanda—two countries you do not want to be associated with when it comes to justice. Not to mention, Guantanamo Bay still a hot topic among political and human rights activists as one of America’s bleeding wounds.

If the rate of admission into prison was the deciding factor, many European countries would be ranked higher than the United States. The problem is that prisoners simply stay longer in jail here in the United States. The mixture of the extended length of prison sentences, along with the high incarceration rate, is a dangerous one. Here in the States, it results in the infamous glory of having the world’s largest prisoner population, as reported by the U.S. Bureau of Justice. In total, the Bureau also reported that almost 7 million Americans are currently under the care of the USA corrections system. Just to clarify, that accounts for 25 percent of the prison population of the entire world, combined.

The view that prison rehabilitates inmates was shown to be ineffective long ago. Studies reported on by the New York Times displayed that a multitude of different bodies have pointed out the poor results of incarceration, including depression and recurring cycle of poverty and regression into crime. State and federal expenditure on the incarceration system has long exceeded the amounts of few billions, and as a nation dealing with a tough fiscal reality, the United States just cannot afford to let this deep problem continue well in to the future.

The use of the criminal justice system as an exaggerated response to ridiculous escapades like Brown’s is no secret, but has yet to be changed. The infamous “war on drugs,” which is based on this attitude toward correctional activity, has sent hundreds of thousands of citizens to prison, serving more punishment to the criminal than the actual damage he or she has done to society. I’ve heard of individuals getting sentenced 15 years for carrying small amounts of drugs—not that people should have illegal drugs anyways. What I mean to say it that there exists a very outdated rulebook, which sometimes punishes more than necessary, without any guarantee of really “correcting” the committed individual. Our society had changed throughout the decades, and perhaps it’s time to consider a “living constitution” approach to our federal crime system. Whatever does happen regarding our criminal justice system, you might want to reconsider being the guy who stole Obama’s teleprompter before you find yourself in prison for seven years.