Blogs > Liberty and Power > Go Directly to Jail

Jul 6, 2004 4:28 pm

Go Directly to Jail

If you'll forgive a little self-promotion, I had a piece in the Chicago Sun Times over the weekend on the problem of overcriminalization. Excerpt:

Last month, at the Port of Miami, federal agents rousted sleeping vacationer Hope Clarke from her cruise ship cabin, handcuffed her, and hauled her off to jail. Her crime? A year ago, while visiting Yellowstone National Park, Clarke had forgotten to put away her marshmallows and hot chocolate, and authorities cited her for"improper food storage." A Wyoming federal court issued a bench warrant for failure to pay the $50 fine, and Immigration and Customs agents enforced it last month during a security check when Clarke's cruise ship docked.

After seven hours in jail, enduring catcalls and vulgar propositions from male inmates, a weeping Clarke appeared before magistrate Judge John O'Sullivan in leg shackles. It turned out that she had already paid the fine. She had been required to before she left Yellowstone that day. When the assistant U.S. attorney protested that there might be some"discrepancy" between Clarke's story and the paperwork, Judge O'Sullivan responded tartly,"Seven hours in jail, I think, is a suitable punishment for leaving marshmallows out at a camp site."

I'm editing a collection of essays on overcriminalization for Cato. The book, called Go Directly to Jail, should be out this fall.

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