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Broke USPS Needs Its Bins Back, Giving Amnesty From Felony Charge

You’ve a rebel for blatantly getting away with a federal crime for too long.  Need amnesty?  Well, if you currently possess a United States Postal Service plastic mail bin (which is a felony, punishable by up to 3 years in prison) now is the time to do so because you can return them free of prosecution.  Sure it’s a lame crime, but hey, a crime is a crime and you can always dress up the story later at the bar with car chases and shootouts.  Because we all know that the ladies dig a bad boy, oh and vampires, too, for some reason.

In any case, you heard right.  The increasingly cash-strapped USPS is currently looking for any way to cut expenses and increase its dwindling revenue streams.  So after years of pointlessly and ineffectively pursuing holders of its mail bins, the agency has announced a temporary period of amnesty starting from November 12 to November 26.  Perhaps it’s simply to spread some early Christmas cheer?  Or more likely it’s because USPS has lost $50 million worth of the bins, which run $4 a pop.  USPS has even gone the extra mile by directing soon-to-be-bin-less citizens towards retailers who sell comparable and/or better bins for $6.

Times must be really tough for the USPS.  Don’t people know that we have to do everything we can to keep it afloat less our society crumble into a post-apocalyptic wasteland.

Seriously though, this really is an interesting turn of events and it will be fascinating to see how it plays out, especially since there is an odd curve ball thrown into the mix of all this.  USPS is only offering amnesty for the return of its mail bins, but is also requesting that people return stolen mail pallets and crates.  The latter two are stolen particularly often as they serve as makeshift furniture for many a dorm room all over the nation.  The twist is that the USPS isn’t offering amnesty to those who return those last two items.  From a criminal theory research perspective, the USPS has inadvertently created a nationwide experiment on effective prosecution and decriminalization.

I know, it all might sound a little crazy, but before you jump to have me committed, take a moment to consider the elements of this predicament and how it relates to current criminal law practices.  Our current criminal justices system has long been one reliant on plea bargains to keep it from collapsing on itself.  This is because the sheer number of criminal defendants makes the notion of prosecuting each and every case impossible.

However, many legal theorists agree that one of the main reasons why there are so many crimes today is because there are too many obscure, harsh, and/or unnecessary criminal laws in existence.  In essence, these laws can make normative and/or less harmful behavior into violations that carry stiff punishments, and in turn force those who commit them into hiding while also increasing the cost and burden on law officials and prosecutors to put violators behind bars.

Now, in the case of USPS’s missing bins, aside from the convenience and utility they offer to customers who hold onto them, one of the main reasons why they aren’t returned is that those who do so after the proscribed return time may be worried about facing prosecution.  Thus they are faced with a rock-and-a-hard-place situation.  They can either return the bin and face potential prosecution, or they can keep the bin and hide their crime.  Either way, USPS doesn’t really benefit in the long run as the latter situation causes them to lose money from not getting their bins back, and the former situation still causes them to lose money since they must expend resources to pursue unnecessary prosecution efforts.

But we won’t know how effective this amnesty attempt will be for USPS’s bottom line until after the experiment is over and the data on it is released.  Though my bet is that the USPS will see a positive spike in returned bins while simultaneously seeing no change on returned pallets and crates.  People I believe, after all, are essentially honest and good.  And I think given the chance most will do the right thing when it’s convenient and safe, as idealistic as that all may sound.

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Ken LaMance

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