Fighting Back

Six Questions for Dale C. Carson on Staying Off the “Electronic Plantation”

by Ken Silverstein, Harpers

Dale C. Carson, a former FBI agent and now a criminal defense lawyer in Jacksonville, Florida, authored the new book, Arrest-Proof Yourself. Funny and very politically incorrect, the book is a how-to guide for staying out of jail—which Carson says should be of concern not only to career criminals but to “people with lapses in judgment, bad manners, a taste for marijuana, and no knowledge of how the criminal justice system operates.” Being arrested might not necessarily lead to a prison stretch, but it will lead to permanent placement in the “electronic plantation,” the term Carson uses to describe the growing web of federal and state criminal databases. Once you’re on the plantation, he says, you can look forward to a lifetime of low-wage jobs and trouble with authorities. In the old days, Carson writes, “All anyone had to do to escape youthful indiscretions was blow town. Nowadays, that doesn’t work. Once you’re in the ‘puter, my friend, you’re there for life.” I recently spoke by phone with Carson about the many pearls of wisdom contained in his new book.

1. You suggest in Arrest-Proof Yourself that it’s a lot easier to get arrested than most people would imagine. Why?

Painters paint, firemen put out fires, and cops put people in jail. Every month you and your employer tally up the number of arrests you made. That’s how you get rated. If you make seven arrests and someone else makes five, who’s the better cop? That gives a police officer an incentive to arrest as many people as possible. There were 70,000 arrests in Duval County, Florida, between 2003 and 2004—that’s about 7 percent of the population. About 10 percent of the people arrested were released within 21 days. That means that you have about 7,000 people who were never prosecuted and should never have seen the inside of a squad car, but now they have an arrest record.

In the book, you say it’s not just cops, but various groups of people and institutions that have a stake in everything from pulling you over in your car to throwing you in jail. How does that play into the arrest epidemic?

There’s a system of constant surveillance that hangs over our communities—it’s called the traffic stop. Duval County issued about 280,000 tickets last year, and they can cost $158 each. Those tickets raise a lot of money for the state but they rarely have anything to do with public safety or getting a bad driver off the street. The state makes a huge amount of money by arresting and jailing people, and there’s a lot of people whose jobs revolve around the system—clerks, probation officers, prison guards, the list goes on and on and on. It’s a cancer that has grown across the system.

How do you end up being arrested if you aren’t guilty of any crime or even of any serious bad behavior?

Let’s say your girlfriend tells the cops that you threatened her. You get stopped and thrown in jail. You say she’s lying and they tell you to tell it to the judge. Even if it’s a false charge, your prints are going to be sent to Washington and now you’re in the electronic plantation. Any time you get stopped, the cop is going to see that you were once charged and jailed.

Sure, in that case the charge was false—but the cops couldn’t have known that from the outset. Give me other examples of how people who have no business being in jail can end up there.

Read the rest at this link.