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Shon Hopwood and Kopf’s terrible sentencing instincts (herculesandtheumpire.com)
157 points by danso 1512 days ago | hide | past | web | 111 comments | favorite

Here's the comment by the judge's former convict:


I feel like I'm in some fantasy alternate reality, where prison rehabilitation really works, and where the Internet is used for polite, intelligent, and uplifting discussion.

Shon Hopwood is a unicorn. He committed five armed bank robberies in Nebraska in the late 1990's (though he didn't shoot anyone). When he was sentenced to prison, he spent his time writing cert petitions (briefs arguing to the Supreme Court for why an appeal should be accepted for their review). A couple of them were granted, which is extremely rare (most lawyers who had a case accepted to be argued in front of the Supreme Court would crow about it at every cocktail party for the rest of their lives). After he got out, he went to law school and accepted a position clerking on the D.C. Circuit (one of the most sought-after positions you can get out of law school).

So basically, yeah, it's a fantasy alternate reality. A guy like him is extremely rare. The recidivism rate for robbers is 70%.

I wonder if you have your cause and effect reversed. Maybe the recidivism rate is 70% because prisons are focused more on punishment and vengeance than on rehabilitation and reintegration into society?

Recidivism has a lot to do with "hardening" in penal-oriented prisons. It also has a lot to do with how we treat former convicts when they get out.

Mr. Hopwood's story is an extreme anomaly. Many ex-cons have a hard time finding anything more than menial work, carrying the stigma of their prison records with them through background checks, parole requirements, etc., for the rest of their lives. In fact, I'm surprised Mr. Hopwood's tale didn't take a tragic turn for the worse when his state Bar Association rejected him on the grounds of "moral character."

This is a very uplifting story, but it's also a huge exception to a general rule. Many (most?) convicts and ex-convicts are never given a serious second chance, on the inside or on the outside.

I agree with your implication.

In my opinion, education for prisoners not serving life terms... PARTICULARLY for those with property offenses... should be mandatory. It's a no brainer. I don't understand why we don't mandate that? We should mandate work AND education for prisoners.

If I had my way... your release would be predicated on the achievement educational goals set for you by a warden.

I've seen a lot about the rise in private prisons and it got me thinking. Private prisons have a profit motive to actually increase recidivism (more repeat "customers",) I wonder what would happen if we instead financially punished/rewarded for-profit prisons based on their recidivism rates?

One of the Peelian principles for the police force is: "The test of police efficiency is the absence of crime and disorder, not the visible evidence of police action in dealing with it." Incentives matter, and in the same way we shouldn't establish incentives for treating prisoners as resources to be exploited for profit.

I'm not sure if the police quote makes a ton of sense. While police presence and efficiency does discourage crime to some extent, many crimes are committed in the heat of the moment and/or despite the risk of being caught.

This is a fantastically interesting idea. For me, the idea itself is pleasant enough to make your comment the high point of this thread. :)

I immediately tried to think of how the incentives could be set up this way and unfortunately couldn't come up with anything that didn't seem susceptible to gaming.

Ie, offer prisons a tasty carrot -- if it's tasty enough to be attractive, you get the same link between sentencing-happy judges and prisons. Sentence people who don't deserve it for a couple of months, they get out and don't reoffend.

I haven't given it much thought, just a idle idea really.

In my ideal world the prisons would offer job training/therapy/etc.. and generally just start treating prisons like people, but it probably would be too easy to game. Prisons would probably try to game transfers to move high-risk to re-offend prisoners to other prisons. Sentencing gaming like you mentioned, probably lots of other odd and interesting unethical hacks that I can't even think of.

Just re-enforces my personal belief that for-profit persons are not a good idea at best, and immoral at worst.

This was California's prison system in the 70s, when we reached a recidivism rate of 15%. Then it was overhauled. My other comment has some more details.

>> I don't understand why we don't mandate that?

Because prisoners being rehabilitated and rejoining society is contrary to the interests of the prison industry.

Can you clarify this point? Do you mean from a monetary perspective, private interests, public prisons, etc?

It is in the prison industry's best interest to have as many people in prison as possible. The longer a prisoner stays in prison, the more money the prison makes. If they get out of prison, commit a crime and are thrown back in, that's great from the prison's perspective.

Not only is it not mandatory, it's often not even available or very hard to access, today in reality.

3/10 may not be "extremely rare".

7/10 is too many.

He went a little bit further than not recidivate.

> some fantasy alternate reality, where prison rehabilitation really works

Hopwood specifically notes — in his second paragraph — that in his experience prison (in the US where he was) does not rehabilitate and that the longer the sentence the lower the chances:

> And to answer Russ’s question, as far as the length of sentencing, I think it had little effect on my rehabilitation. Prison is not the place for personal growth. Very few people come out of it for the better. From my experience, sentences over 5 years do little to help society or the prisoner. Five years is about the maximum amount of time for someone to “get it” and change and create a different life. More than that, and prisoners feel hopelessness and they think “why bother, I just need to get through this and go home.” It’s very difficult to “seize the day” in prison and use every day to prepare for release when you staring at a 10- or 20-year sentence in the face. And like I said, prisons are not designed with rehabilitation in mind. It’s almost solely about incapacitation, which is why the national recidivism rate hovers at 66%.

(emphasis mine)

As far as he's concerned, his rehabilitation are thanks to personal maturation/growth and an excellent support network (family and now-wife), which he was able to use thanks to a "fairly short" sentence. He also links to an article putting his sentence in perspective: he got 12 years (which I don't find short) but notes an other guy sentenced for similar crimes at a similar age got 213 years (the main difference being the other guy was armed, and got hit by the related minimum sentences).

I was soooo tempted to troll that comment :-)

I am struck however by the agreement by the judge and the ex-robber that 5 years is about the max you should give if hoping to reform someone.

> In the “for what it is worth” category, I have thought > for a long time that 60 months was about the maximum > sentence one should impose if you were were solely hoping > to make a positive impact on the prisoner.

It would be interesting if we genuinely tried prison as a reform institution. Stop the violence, stop the drugs, provide real meaningful work, and ... err.

It was intellectually in vogue in the 1960's to treat prison as a reform institution. Then the 1970's and 1980's happened, and the great cities of the U.S. dissolved in crime and violence, and those ideas went very much out of style.

I think it's an unfortunate accident of history more than anything else. When I was growing up in the 1990's, us suburbanites from Northern Virginia would never dream of going to D.C. at night. What took the capital of the country and dragged it down into that sorry state was a combination of economic issues, the drug war, deteriorating race relations, political conflict, etc. But whatever the cause was, it happened, and the end result was that we had an entire generation of people (the boomer generation), that saw the purpose of the criminal law as keeping the criminal element from spilling out into civilized society. Hence, the focus was, through the 1990's, "victims rights" and "tough on crime" not rehabilitation.

whatever the cause was, it happened

The incarceration rate since the 1960s has remained virtually static; but the incarcerees are in prison, where previously they would have been detained in mental asylums:


Also note the strong correlation between falling crime rates since 1970 and the removal of tetraethyl lead as an additive in gasoline:


A punitive prison regime isn't going to cure the sick. What we need is to swing the focus onto mental health issues -- and yes, this may mean building new asylums, to replace the punishment regime of prisons with a medical/treatment oriented system -- and shrink the prison system and re-focus it on actual criminals rather than unfortunates who hear voices in their heads.

> The incarceration rate since the 1960s has remained virtually static; but the incarcerees are in prison, where previously they would have been detained in mental asylums:

Wait, you are telling me that in 1960s we had 1-2% of the population in prison or a mental asylum? Why do no other countries have near that rate?

Putting people with mental problems in prison is shameful and a serious problem. But certainly you aren't claiming that black and brown people have more mental problems than white people?

This is something I'd be comfortable defending.

Mental problems do not need to be inherent from birth; whereas minority groups are highly correlated with crime and low income as a result of American class divisions, at a glance, I can see several ways to argue that minorities are at least more susceptible to mental illness. This isn't ethnic so much as it is environmental living conditions in poverty. For one, you have malnutrition, which is an entire precursor to mental illness in of itself.

Of course you can't reasonably argue that minorities have an inherent predisposition to mental illness (it'd be frankly racist, and without much evidence I believe), but in practice, they probably do have a predisposition to it over the course of their lifetimes from a statistical standpoint.

That's a very interesting question, maybe better phrased as "why would a white-dominated psychiatric profession diagnose more mental problems among underprivileged non-white people than among white people?"

(Also worth noting: there's a strong correlation between cannabis (marijuana) use and schizophrenia. The drug warriors tend to get alarmed that this means cannabis use causes schizophrenia. But schizophrenics also tend to smoke tobacco, drink, and use other drugs. What if they're really self-medicating, and the cannabis correlation is there because smoking a joint makes the voices go away for a bit? I suspect the answer to this question is again down to cultural norms: privileged white folks determine the norms and set the laws, and this works against underprivileged/minority folks. Oh, and privileged white folks get to pay lawyers to either get them off drugs charges, or get them a lighter sentence. Hence their under-representation in prisons. Full disclosure: I am a privileged white person.)

Huh? Lead causes crime?

See: http://www.motherjones.com/environment/2013/01/lead-crime-li....

Also, lead lowers IQ. Various estimates have been in the several point range, but at least one researcher has estimated an increase of 6 IQ points as a result of the lead ban: http://www.nytimes.com/2012/12/13/opinion/kristof-its-a-smar....

Do you have any sources that can quantify what 6 IQ points is for the average person? Is it a percent benefit (does it benefit someone who would have had a 90 IQ more than someone who would have had a 130 anyway) or absolute benefit (you can quantify an IQ point the same for everyone).

I imagine it's the former, but I'm wondering if you have any other IQ-related sources.

From the reading I have done about it, in the 70s-80s or so, there was a huge crime wave that was expected to grow even worse in the 90s. Instead, crime rates fell off a cliff. I might have timeframe wrong, but that's the basic facts.

Everybody involved has been trying to figure out why crime rates dropped so hard when they were expected to grow. There's a ton of proposed reasons, and not much in the way of solid proof behind any of them. Lead in the water is one of them, also legal abortion, drug market changes, gun law changes, and many others. Maybe it was really all one of them, maybe all of them played a part, maybe just a few. We'll probably never know for sure - it's not like you can perform experiments to really isolate one of those variables properly.

Uh, yeah. It's pretty widely accepted that lead-induced brain damage from tetraethyl lead fuel additives was a contributor to crime in the mid to late 20th century.

It's a very decent theory, but don't confuse someone agreeing that spending money to reduce environmental lead is a good bet (where the standard of proof is not extremely strict, and that's a good thing) with someone saying that "lead causes crime."

Just because Kevin Drum likes it doesn't make it "widely accepted." You oversell his theory. It's proven about as well as abortion reducing crime, which has good evidence behind it but is hardly a slam-dunk case.

Correlates with, does not necessarily cause.

Agreed, but correlation across multiple countries across multiple time windows, indicate that we should pay attention to it.


But it is difficult to imagine a mechanism where the lead could be caused by the crime and easy to imagine one where the crime is caused by the lead. A separate independent cause that affects crime and lead is easy to imagine, but if you control for location where people live, or lived when young (which is largely a measure of poverty) and still saw the correlation between lead and crime, then I would say that was quite strong evidence that lead poisoning (which is known to have mental effects) causes behavior patterns that lead to crime.

One causing the other is not the only possibility.

Maybe it's a complete coincidence.

Or maybe (keeping in mind that somoene above suggested the correlation has been shown in different countries at different times) -- societies that work to reduce lead also tend to be societies that work on other social issues, and those other social issues reduce crime. So the lead is correlated to crime historically, even though neither causes the other directly.

Now, i think the study showing lead/crime correlation is _awfully_ interesting, and I don't dismiss it.

But "correlation does not prove causation" does not just mean "B could have caused A instead of A causing B." And this is important to understand in order to evaluate statistical findings properly. There are all sorts of things that can cause correlation rather than either A or B causing the other -- including things nobody's actually even thought of yet, but may still be what happened. And complete coincidence is always possible as well.

> Maybe it's a complete coincidence.

The word "correlated" means that it is NOT just a complete coincidence. One might not cause the other, they might be correlated because of a separate factor that interacts with both, but if they are "correlated" then complete coincidence can be ruled out.

> [...] So the lead is correlated to crime historically, even though neither causes the other directly.

Yes, this is what I mean by a third factor affecting both. But lead is a physical effect -- there are only certain sorts of things that can cause it. Things like eating lead, breathing lead, or having a diet that causes one to incorporate less lead into neurons. Thinking happy thoughts cannot change your lead levels (directly). So there are only certain categories of separate factors, C, that could be the cause of both A (lead) and B (crime). Where your name comes in the alphabet might conceivably cause crime, but it simply cannot cause lead. C, if it exists, must be a physical effect.

That's why I mentioned controlling for location where people live. That is a likely candidate for C: it is plausible to correlate with crime and it is possible to correlate with lead. If you control for it and still find an effect, then either A causes B, B causes A (not reasonable), or there is a different C'. Perhaps a genetic mutation that increases lead absorption and also alters brain chemistry to increase propensity to crime? That one is already a bit of a stretch.

I guess what I am saying is that it is true that correlation does not imply causation, but that there are reasonableness constraints on the kinds of interactions one can hypothesize, and after a certain point Occam's razor implores us to consider causation.

The word "correlated" means that it is NOT just a complete coincidence.

How do you figure? The word 'correlated' means that a relationship has been shown to be statistically _unlikely_ to have happened purely by chance. It can never be shown to be impossible however. And there can (and often are) subtle mistakes in the calculations that mean even the correlation isn't what one first thought.

And obviously statistics alone can never prove (or rule out)_ a causation, I think we agree there.

I haven't examined the research under discussion in detail enough to know if they controlled for all the things you suggest would be good to control for, etc., I have no idea.

But yeah, in the end we use our judgement as to what statistical correlations actually mean (such as a causation, and what sort through what mechanism). We can also do experiments or analysis to try and rule out (or confirm) other plausible alternate explanations. That's science, yep.

I think we mostly agree. I still object to what I think was an overly facile implication on your part that a few minutes of thinking of alternate explanations and deciding they are implausible -- on your own without seeing what other people's responses to the study in the literature have been, without an in depth analysis and consideration of the original research -- is sufficient to determine that there's "quite strong evidence" for correlation. That's not science.

One wonders how much of that was a function of more draconian drug laws, both in directly creating offenders and in indirectly creating markets which incentivized criminal behavior.

When Tocqueville (Democracy in America) came to the US in the 1830's it was to study prison reform for the French government. He wrote about an experiment at a youth reformatory that was run democratically by the inmates. No one ever lost their right to vote no matter what they did, but if you behaved you got two votes and could affect the outcome of decisions more. Apparently this worked very well.

> It would be interesting if we genuinely tried prison as a reform institution.

Yes, until the 70s. People came from all over the world to see the californian prison system.

What was unique about California?

It used to be the model for reform, with many education and work skills programs so leaving inmates would have a career to enter upon leaving.

I believe it had one of (if the the) lowest recidivism rates in the country. Here's some relevant quotes from an article I found[1], I've heard a few programs about the prison system during that period on the radio:

    Before 1977, all California prisoners had an indeterminate
    sentence. They were given a range of time in which they 
    would be imprisoned, with five years to life being a 
    common sentence. To be freed, inmates had to prove to 
    the parole board that they deserved it, which could mean 
    enrolling in reform-oriented programs, learning a trade, 
    or taking classes. The aim of indeterminate sentencing 
    was to rehabilitate prisoners and, when they were ready 
    to reenter society, free them.
    Although the system had its flaws, it also had its 
    successes. According to state statistics, just 15 
    percent of inmates released in 1977 returned to 
    California prisons — an extraordinarily low recidivism 
    rate in comparison to today. Nonetheless, in 1977, then-
    Governor Jerry Brown signed a law that completely 
    overhauled the state's sentencing system, switching the 
    focus from rehabilitation to punishment.

  [1]: http://www.eastbayexpress.com/oakland/how-the-prison-population-exploded/Content?oid=3172693

It was in a sunny, rich state, next to Hollywood, and you could get there with the expenses account on the prison budget.

The Cuban medical system is considered world-class for very similar reasons.


The problem is that in a prison most of the people there are going to be criminals, and will end up socializing each other in ways that act against reform.

Though another part of the problem is that whenever you have a justice system anyone singled out by it as a criminal is going to have an easier time being trusted by criminals and a harder time being trusted by non-criminals in the future.

>>>and will end up socializing each other in ways that act against reform.

There's no incentive for people to reform which is a huge issue with the current prison culture. You're just trying to survive 24/7, align yourself with a gang for protection and hope you can make it without getting caught or extending your sentence.

The whole system is set up for people to go to jail and get better at committing crimes.

The prison gang system is also supported by (some of) the warders, because it makes their job easier. Not just because some of them may receive bribes, but also because they come to rely on gang authority to keep any kind of order.

> It would be interesting if we genuinely tried prison as a reform institution. Stop the violence, stop the drugs, provide real meaningful work, and ... err.

Where is the money in that? Your "clientele" numbers might actually go down - less prisoners == less money.

The money explanation is phat, but there isn't much to it. The vast, vast majority of prisoners in the U.S. are housed in public prisons, which cost taxpayers tons of money. Moreover, the explosion in incarceration rate predates the use of private, for-profit prisons.

It's always convenient to lay the blame on some corporation, but the fact is that voters wanted long sentences and got them. They would rather spend large amounts of money keeping convicts locked up than have those people walking around in public.

Note the political change that happened in the 1990's. Prior to the 1990's, democrats talked a lot about prisoners rights. Republicans crucified them as "soft on crime" and countered with "victims rights" which was much more popular. As a result, today there is almost no difference between the two parties when it comes to the criminal justice system, except maybe when it comes to the death penalty. Being "soft on crime" is a political non-starter in the U.S.

And then you'd have to import prisoners, like the Netherlands...

There's another judge whose thoughts on sentencing are summed up as: there are two classes of people whom I sentence; the ones I'm mad at, and the ones I'm afraid of. I save long sentences for the second class.

To be fair, even the comment by Hopwood reenforces the point (...which is why the national recidivism rate hovers at 66%....It’s very difficult to “seize the day” in prison and use every day to prepare for release when you staring at a 10- or 20-year sentence in the face) that prison rehab doesnt really work.

The internet is more likely to be used for polite, intelligent, and uplifting discussion than for the American prison systems to be used justly.

That's not the title.

The title is "Shon Hopwood and Kopf's terrible sentencing instincts".

Choice quote: "Hopwood proves that my sentencing instincts suck. When I sent him to prison, I would have bet the farm and all the animals that Hopwood would fail miserably as a productive citizen when he finally got out of prison. My gut told me that Hopwood was a punk–all mouth, and very little else. My viscera was wrong."

That's quite a stand-up thing to write.

I believe the title is highlighting something most folk will miss. Hopwood and Kopf have a fascinating back-and-forth in the comments section.

Whilst the article itself is a good read, the comments (which I would have otherwise skipped) are fascinating.

Indeed. The title is a little misleading (they agree, rather than debate) but I wouldn't have gone to the comments without the hint.

"Debate" generally does mean "argument" (and if on the Internet, a contentious one), but it also has the connotation of discussion. That said, I do think the judge asserts a point that the ex-convict rebuts:

Judge Kopf:

> Hopwood proves that my sentencing instincts suck. When I sent him to prison, I would have bet the farm and all the animals that Hopwood would fail miserably as a productive citizen when he finally got out of prison. My gut told me that Hopwood was a punk–all mouth, and very little else. My viscera was wrong


> I wouldn’t say that your sentencing instincts suck. While I meant what I said at sentencing, I was hardly the person that could back it up. I was a reckless and selfish young man back then. I changed.

And later:

> But as a judge, you’re constrained by the system we have. I’ve never believed that it’s up to judges to fix that system on their own. It requires citizens to view criminal justice issues differently (and heck, to view prisoners differently), and a Congress to actually pass some legislation.

Hopwood disagrees that the judge's instincts were off, because at the time of sentencing, the judge was right to see the convict as a "mouth-off". Furthermore, Hopwood disagrees with the Judge Kopf's implication that he, a judge, bears the agency and responsibility of harsh sentencing. The system is not one that judges alone can fix, Hopwood says, and up to the legislature (and the voters who vote in lawmakers) to effectively reform the system.

That last point is, IMO, an extremely important nuance that is often overlooked in debates over controversial judicial matters. It's easy to blame the judge (hence, the focus on the party of the executive who appointed a particular federal judge) because it's the easiest part of the system to personify. Much harder to sustain interest in the chain of laws, voter attitudes, and societal values that puts the buck in the judge's court.

So in other words, it is a debate, albeit a small one that doesn't catch fire...which makes it so unusual. Also, note the comment thread in which a Huffington Post reporter tries to get Kopf and Hopwood to participate in an online talk, and how Judge Kopf declines: http://herculesandtheumpire.com/2013/08/08/shon-hopwood-and-...

I think the title was submitted as it was to draw light to the fact that Shon Hopwood and Kopf actually have a debate in the comments section underneath the main article. Something most people would gloss over.

And the title is still wrong, "debate" implies some disagreement, which I don't really see in either party's comments.

The title refers to the bank robber and judge both appearing in the comments section.

Prison works for a very small minority of people who are reasonably intelligent and curious, but lacking direction or drive. Being incarcerated for a short time is a hell of a wake-up call, and for me, Shon Hopwood, and a few others ever, leads you to turn your life around.

For most people it's not about rehabilitation, but deterrence, retribution, and physically restraining inmates from committing crimes in mainstream society.

I completely agree with Shon about the impact of long sentences. He says:

Five years is about the maximum amount of time for someone to “get it” and change and create a different life. More than that, and prisoners feel hopelessness and they think “why bother, I just need to get through this and go home.” It’s very difficult to “seize the day” in prison and use every day to prepare for release when you staring at a 10- or 20-year sentence in the face.

I would add that many people become institutionalised. After a few years in prison you can become socially important in the community. But on the outside, you are nobody. The longer you're in there, the less attractive it looks to reform and try to build a life on the outside.

Also helping Hopwood's situation - he had a strong, supportive social network while in prison and after his release.

Smart white guy gets locked up, manages to make something of himself once his hormones cool off over the course of a few years. This is not rare. Nor is it something you can apply to the general prison population. I.e., think of what the racial makeup of prison would look like 5 years after you started giving smarter people lesser sentences due to their lower rates of recidivism (and vice-versa).

The average prison inmate has an IQ of 85. What can you do with that? That is McDonalds or a government-job level human potential. Further, large swaths of criminals come from parts of our society that don't avail themselves of a traditional means of attaining social restraint: marriage. While everyone here on HN has been solving such important world problems as gay marriage, America's underclass has more or less stopped marrying. Bizarrely, the libertine paradise has not ensued.

I'm amazed you haven't deleted this post considering it must have been down-voted into oblivion. Or so I hope.

> government-job level human potential

I'm so fucking sick of hearing (presumably conservative) people badmouth and dismiss all government employees. Are you contemptuous of the law enforcement officers who protect? The firefighters who would risk their lives to save your ass should your home catch fire? The over-worked, underpaid, disrespected teachers like my wife who slave away educating your [God I hope you don't have any] children? The National Guard and FEMA workers who would pick you up off your roof in the event of a flood? The DOT employees who construct the highways you drive on? The FDA workers who make sure that everything you put in your mouth is safe and poison-free?

But no, those whole groups of people are to be held in contempt. They're all incompetent DMV workers unfit for jobs in the private sector.

I'm sorry that I'm kind of losing my shit on here right now. Maybe you don't deserve that, IDK. I've kind of been rehearsing this diatribe since a few weeks ago when my uncles went off on this tangent at a family gathering, even declaring "the only thing a government employee cares about is their paycheck." I said nothing at the time and regretted it later as the arrogance, scorn and fucking vacuity of that comment wormed its way further and further under my skin.

The patently obvious thing to say at that moment would have been something along the lines of "Oh, and are private sector employees not motivated by pay?" What a moronic assertion, that public employees, who are frequently overpaid and certainly not overpaid compared to their private sector counterparts, are somehow more motivated by financial gain than private sector employees. I suppose the firefight working for < $30k/year is just greedy. Same for my wife, who with her Master's in Education pulls in less than a Junior developer at Innitech. Obviously the only reason they do the work they do is for the pay. Whereas the VP of Sales at GE does what he does out of altruism and selflessness.


Are there incompetent, unmotivated government employees? Certainly. Are they more prevalent than disengaged employees in huge private corporations? I'm not so sure. All I know is, with all the shitting on that gets done en masse on government employees, someone needs to defend them.

Please calm down.

The person to which you replied mentioned McDonalds and government jobs together, just after mentioning that typical prisoners have low intelligence and so are not qualified for many kinds of work.

It can easily be deduced that they were talking about cashiers and line cooks at McDonalds, and about entry-level jobs in mundane government offices or in low-skill, manual labor. You had no need to defend the writers, artists, managers and scientists McDonalds employs because this was obvious -- and you didn't. Similarly, you don't need to defend the skilled professionals government agencies employ. The person to which you responded, you, me, and every other reader knows that both large public companies and governments hire employees at all levels.

I understand that you are trying to make up for not saying something to your uncle. You are upset that your uncle made a remark arrogantly, scornfully and with vitriol. I believe you. However, I do not see any of that in the post to which you responded and so don't think you have redeemed yourself here. You should talk to your uncle instead.

I don't know about the rest of your argument but I know that police officers have to take an IQ test in many places, and if their IQ is too high they don't get the job: http://blogs.discovermagazine.com/gnxp/2012/01/too-smart-to-...

Maybe that's a wise policy though? I don't think mandatory IQ tests are common in private industry, but there are plenty of jobs were being "too smart" is a huge knock. And it makes sense really, smarter people are more prone to boredom and stirring up trouble if unhappy.

That is very amusing.

Try asking you uncles why they say X before you share that diatribe. It'll help to temper your arguments with their perspective of how some particular inspector wouldn't even talk to them about an exception to a rule which maybe isn't applicable to this one of five locations. Seriously it wasn't till FEMA that you mentioned organizations people bad mouthing government employees might, Might, refer to. So as worded your talk will fall on deaf ears.

Oh, but I tell all my friends and family: "Get a government job!"

> That is .. government-job level human potential

Plenty of smart talented people work in government, insulting everyone who works in the civil service like that is not only offensive, it is stupid.

JamisonM, please travel to your local DMV, and while you spend most of your day waiting in the line, repeat to yourself: "My government is behemoth, and therefore large enough to both hire intelligent people for important roles, and also provide sinecures for talentless individuals from groups with political clout for non-vital roles."

I don't know why people still harp on the DMV. Of the two in my area, I've never been in one longer than 20 minutes. They've adopted a worker pool model. You walk in and a greeter assigns you to an appropriate queue based on the type of service you need, and then 3-4 workers consume each queue type. It's stunningly efficient to say the least.

I use the DMV in Redwood City, CA, and efficiency is not my experience there. They have the worker pool model as well. The last time I was there, I was unfortunate to be in the pool with the worker who could barely type. He processed 2-3 customers in an hour, while the Asian gentleman who replaced him at lunch processed 5 times as many. The first gentleman, I assume, is fit for his current position or McDonalds.

I have used stunningly efficient DMVs. They do exist. But the existence of DMVs that do not scrape the bottom of the barrel for hiring, and are more efficient because of it, is proof of my point, if you take a moment to think about it.

What do you have to say about the customer who has the option to schedule an appointment online, disregards that option, and then complains about being subjected to a wait? Severely entitled and unduly convinced of self-superiority come to mind.

That is certainly a possibility. Unless that customer comes from a state with privately run DMVs, and is used to a 5 minute wait without scheduling. Further, it may be that that customer has been greatly impressed by the efficiency and wealth of California's private industry compared to his old state, and was not entirely prepared for the inefficiency and ineffectiveness of California's government.

Jessed, I can tell that you love your government. I'm going to suggest something that you can listen to or not, as you choose: Part of loving your government means examining critiques and saying "how can this be improved?" rather than wearing your heart on your sleeve about it.

Reasonable critique. Not -- the Asian guy was faster so I'm right and government jobs are for iq 85 people.

Which speaks to motivation as much as ability anyway. Thorsten Veblen observed that only the lower and upper classes get what work is for -- the middle classes are the only ones stupid enough to apply all their effort grinding through an imaginary career hierarchy. From that perspective the other guy, no doubt you mean to imply he's black given your other statements, is actually executing the superior strategy.

And actually, here's another thought: it's a good thing for society that we have a place for iq 85 people to contribute and earn a living. I don't hold it against people for having an 85 iq, just like I don't credit people with 150 iqs with an achievement. Those things are largely determined before you're aware of them anyway.

Also: which states have private DMVs with 5-minute waits?

It is not a reasonable critique. He specifically mentioned the faster employee was 'Asian' as a racist dog-whistle. His problem isn't with 'government workers', it's with 'lazy black people'. Don't feed the racist troll.

Yes, I meant that loving one's government requires examining reasonable critiques, not rants about how Asians are faster than blacks at the DMV.

Half of the time when I'm pissed off at the DMV, it's because I stupidly forgot to bring a document that I needed. I'm afraid to admit DMV workers have far more to complain about me than I them.

I think the complaints usually start just about after the queues end.

You seem to have an extremely limited view of government jobs.

The government does need rubbish collectors, DMV personnel, and cleaners, all the way up to engineers, accountants and lawyers. Not to mention policemen, teachers, the defense force.

BTW the DMV is smart enough to realise voters don't care and can save money by having extremely long DMV lines. People working at a DMV can't change anything, and probably care even less.

And you believe the private sector is any different? If you do, then you haven't worked in any big and rusty corporation where the only reason Joe in Accounting has been there for the past 30 years is because he knows which buttons to click on the legacy system to make the printer spit out the invoices.

There are plenty of smart people in government, but working for the government is soul destroying. There are great exceptions, like NASA and other research positions, but largely I think this quote from the Caine Mutiny sums up all government service:

"The Navy is a master plan designed by geniuses for execution by idiots. If you're not an idiot, but find yourself in the Navy, you can only operate well by pretending to be one."

I suspect you may have cause and effect reversed. Government employment is not soul-destroying; rather, government self-selects applicants from the pool of people who enjoy legal theft and extortion and telling others how to live their lives. It's difficult to destroy a soul that doesn't exist.

I think your analysis is pretty cynical, but not cynical enough. Government employees, as a class, are not interested in doing anything but avoiding work. They certainly don't have any political philosophy driving their actions.

I wish someone had told me that back when I worked in the public sector, all my colleagues too! We thought we were all trying to execute public services well. Is the work avoidance conscious or unconscious? If it was unconscious have I lost it now that I work for myself or am I secretly undermining my own business? Please, tell me all about myself.

You're right of course. Government is a model of efficiency. Government workers are often found working late into the night, and if you look at the parking lot at most government agencies at 6PM you'll find them full. You will never see a rush out the door at exactly 4:00. It would be shockingly bad customer service to close the door at 4 when people are waiting, and that's why government offices never do that, expecting you to show up the next morning.

You'll never find that a government worker refuses to show up to do some essential work, even though overtime is not approved. I mean, they are on salary, so it would be crazy of them to demand overtime pay when in any non-government job they would be considered exempt salaried employees and would not qualify for overtime.

Besides these great qualities, government employees are known for how much they try to make the system work for people despite silly bureaucratic rules.

Finally, they treat each other well and respect the institutions they work for. You certainly wouldn't find that government workers routinely sue their employers when they are passed over for promotions with cause. And it would be crazy to imagine a world where hiring and firing were purely seniority based, all government workers want the government to have the best team possible, and they wouldn't support a union contract that put their own job security in front of all semblance of meritocracy.

This comment is pretty hilarious (though not for the reason you apparently intend).

Why did you leave public service?

To travel the world.

Alright, I'll bite.

>The average prison inmate has an IQ of 85.

where'd you find that one? Assuming you've got a solid cross-section of tests to average, what kind of motivation do you think those prisoners get to score highly on THAT test? Maybe they were their school tests... What kind of motivation do you think those students had to score highly on those tests?

>What can you do with that? That is McDonalds or a government-job level human potential.

Ever seen that Undercover Boss show? The CEO of Waste Management was fired for being inept as a menial trash collector and laborer. I've seen electrical engineering students (good ones!) get fired as custodians, for much of the same.

I met an ex-CPA with a rocketing hobby working at a DMV in Arizona over a cigarette outside. He was QUITE good at his job, and intelligent and thoughtful to boot. There are many many others like him.

You really shouldn't group people into big lumpy categories, and you really shouldn't look down on people or positions. It's rude for one, but it will also severely detriment your understanding of people. I could give a damn either way, but you'll be worse off for it.

>Further, large swaths of criminals come from parts of our society that don't avail themselves of a traditional means of attaining social restraint: marriage. While everyone here on HN has been solving such important world problems as gay marriage, America's underclass has more or less stopped marrying. Bizarrely, the libertine paradise has not ensued.

Wait... What? did you just draw a correlation between an abandonment of the institution of marriage, and criminality?

Let me put this in terms you may understand: "In God we trust; all others must bring data"

I have the bizarre feeling I'm feeding a troll.

> The average prison inmate has an IQ of 85. What can you do with that?

A lot of research is now pointing to lead being the cause of a decent amount of crime. Children who grow up exposed to lead have much lower impulse control which ends up being at the root of a lot of crime.

See here[1] for a story on how the murder rate in Jamaica has dropped as a generation grows up without lead paint.

[1] http://www.slate.com/blogs/moneybox/2013/08/18/jamaica_lead_...

> That is .. government-job level human potential

I'm a Gov employee and I'm not certain how to take this comment. Is my IQ no higher than 85? There certainly are plenty of Gov employees with an IQ of 85 but there are also many jobs in Gov that only require that.

I had to read this a few times to realize that you actually just said "we should give white people lower prison sentences for the same crimes because they're smarter and less likely to reoffend, unlike black people who are stupid and commit crimes because they're too stupid to get good jobs, and because they're really horny and don't get married like good Christians should. Also, gay marriage sucks."

So, um...that was a hell of a stealthy dog-whistle there. Congratulations, I guess.

Please delete your above comment. It's derogatory and wrong. In fact, I believe the following:

There are a great many intelligent black people. Christians in America's underclass are just as likely to cohabit without marriage as non-Christians. If gay people, as a class, are really excited about taking up the burdens of marriage, I have no objection. They can't change their sexual preference, after all.

So your parent comment is derogatory and wrong, but your comments about unwed parents, government employees, and “the racial makeup of prison… after you started giving smarter people lesser sentences” aren’t? Did I miss something?

"In fact, I believe the following..."

Oh, must be a Tuesday.

Bizarrely, the libertine paradise has not ensued.

It has been going on for ages actually. We just didn't want to spoil it by letting you know where it is.

This is not reddit, grow up.

That gif is quite childish – but also entirely correct. schoper is awesome at spouting cleverly disguised standard racist talking points. Nothing interesting to see there.

Considering all the upvotes OP has earned for his nice little pile of racist poop, actually, it’s starting to smell awfully reddity in here.

I've got to be missing something... I don't see where the racism is? Because he said 'white'? He also said 'gay', so is he a homophobe too?

In all seriousness, point out the racism, please?

>think of what the racial makeup of prison would look like 5 years after you started giving smarter people lesser sentences due to their lower rates of recidivism (and vice-versa)

The above statement implies that if you let smart people out prison, the racial makeup of prisons would change. This indicates a position of assigning a pretty high correlation to intelligence and race; ie, a prejudice based on ethnicity. Seems pretty clearly racist to me.

That's not what I call a "debate". Both the ex-inmate and the judge largely agree with each other, unfortunately the judge is constrained by the system. Pretty inspiring story though!

In this case the judge wasn't constrained by the system and he still agrees with his 12 year sentence. Where the constraint often comes in is the federal minimum sentencing guidelines as pointed out by Shon here[1].

In the 1990s, Congress passed several get-tough-on-crime mandatory minimum sentencing bills. One of those laws requires a judge to impose an additional 25-year sentence for anyone convicted of a second or subsequent firearm charge. Without these laws, Adam may have received the same 12-year sentence I did. Instead, mandatory minimums allowed prosecutors to transform a crime that averages a 10-year sentence into life imprisonment.

[1] http://www.theatlantic.com/national/archive/2012/12/i-got-a-...

This is the beautiful of the internet. People always look at the internet and see the facebooks and the twitters that connect us, and that's cool, but people don't see the beautiful parts. this is the beautiful.

agreed. The judges comment at the end nearly yanked a tear from me; sounds like an old professor, with a genuine care:


Savor your third year! Luxuriate,now,in your incredible success.Keep a daily journal–30 years from now it will amuse you while giving your grandchildren warm insights into who you were and how you became the distinguished lawyer that you will become.

Most of all, be happy. All the best.


Where's the "debate"? Seems like they agreed with each other.

* > giving smarter people lesser sentences due to their lower rates of recidivism*

Do you have any evidence for this claim? My limited personal experience with criminals and from what I've read is that many are highly intelligent individuals who don't care about hurting other people (sociopaths), don't think the rules apply to them and have a deep and abiding grudge against society.

On a side note - the level of discourse in the comments on that site is surprisingly high. It would be interesting to see how such a level is achieved.

Wow. This is such an amazing story.

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