Why Vagrancy Laws Are Hard to Enforce.

Mark Adams on THE-Ave.US “When vagrancy is a crime and it’s enforced the enforcement mostly ends up moving the vagrants to other communities. Even when private businesses and residences deal with vagrants most of the effort is getting the vagrants off the property, Generally they do not give the vagrants hotel rooms with meals, but a nice police officer hands the vagrant some legal papers or tells them to skedaddle or the vagrant is arrested. None of which fixes any real problems, but ensures there is no vagrancy in someone’s back yard.”

Roger Rabbit: The first challenge is to define “vagrancy.” The second is to craft a law that doesn’t violate the Constitution. In general, “status crimes” are unconstitutional; that is, you can’t make it a crime to be poor, homeless, or a prostitute. (You can make it illegal to engage in prostitution acts, but not to simply be a prostitute.) Third, the law must not be overbroad, and must target specific behavior the government is allowed to prohibit or regulate. For example, historically, vagrancy laws sometimes were used to prosecute protesters exercising their free speech rights, and that’s not permissible. Fourth, we should be very wary of attempts to enact vagrancy laws, because they’re ripe for abuse and historically have been used to discriminate against blacks and given police a tool with which to persecute unpopular groups (e.g., hippies). In general, vagrancy laws have a well-deserved bad reputation, are often unconstitutional, and are a poor solution to social problems. Are you really going to throw someone in jail for taking a leak under a bridge when he has nowhere else to go? And keep him in jail for as long as he has a need to urinate? (After all, if you release him, he’s going to piss in public again.) Why not provide public toilets instead?

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