It seems that our representatives are mainly concerned with doing what is politically comfortable. It seems as though they feel that the only way to keep public support is to tell the voters what they think the voters want to hear. But, what this country desperately needs is politicians who are not afraid to leave the well-beaten path and have the guts to strike out in new directions to find solutions that actually work instead of looking for answers that sound good. For much too long, the people we have trusted to come up with the answers have continually promised us results through stiffer penalties and longer prison sentences. Over the past several years, we have clearly seen that this answer is totally inadequate.
There are two main types of crime. One is a crime that is committed in the heat of passion, where the perpetrator is thinking of nothing but committing the act. The other is a crime that is planned out and the perpetrator does not believe that he can get caught. How can the possible penalty prevent someone from committing a crime when the person isn't even considering the possibility of getting caught, yet alone what the punishment might be?
It is easy to understand how the focus has changed from rehabilitation to punishment, but basically all we are doing now is keeping a criminal locked up for a little while longer. In the end most of the criminals will still be returned to society and the odds are strong that they will have nothing to show for their time in prison, except for an even more bitter outlook on life. So we spend millions of dollars to build more and more prisons to warehouse our criminals and in the end many of those criminals will be released with nothing better to do than return to preying on their community. In essence, we all become victims. We spend millions of dollars to build prisons and millions more to maintain them and care for the inmates confined in them, so that many of these inmates that we support for years can get out and commit another crime and start the entire process over again.
Why do our politicians continually ask us to support ideas that obviously do not work?
The nation's focus has gone from rehabilitation to punishment because rehabilitation was not working. Perhaps, it is time for us to examine the reasons why the rehabilitation process was not working.
Many prisons have lost some of their programs in recent months, but most of our prisons offer basic education classes, GED classes, college courses, several vocational options, and many different types of therapy groups, such as AA, 12 Steps, Anger control groups, sexual deviance groups, and others. You would think with all of these options, rehabilitation would be a viable solution, so what is the problem? The problem is that all of these programs are pretty much voluntary. Except in rare instances, inmates are not forced to utilize any of these options and many of them do not. When their time in prison is up, they are returning to society basicallly unchanged in their ability to cope and unable to become a productive member of their community.
Research has shown that a person who has advanced their education and received counseling while in prison, is much less likely to return to prison than someone who has been idle during their incarceration. If a criminal is told, upon entering prison, that he stands no chance for release until he can show that he has advanced his education and received counseling for whatever problems led up to his incarceraton, then he will have a defininte incentive to work toward self-improvement. When they achieve that, they will have no excuse for returning to prison. There will always be those who cannot be rehabilitated, but the vast majority can be.
Every criminal that is released from prison will be living in someone's neighborhood. Ask yourself this: which would you rather have living in your neighborhood -- someone who has spent 20 years in prison without seeking any type of self-improvement or someone who has spent 10 years in prison that were geared toward education and counseling? Lenghty prison sentences do have their place in our system, but they are not the ultimate solution, and they should be kept in their place. If a person continually commits crimes, thereby showing that he has no intention of ever being a productive member of society, then that person should be removed from society, but cases should be judged on an individual basis.
There is no question that criminals must be punished, but our current system not only fails them...it fails us. In many ways, the average citizen is paying more for the crime than the criminal himself. The current trend would have us sending a criminal to prison for a long period of time, say 20 years. During that time, we will pay for all maintenance on the prison, prisoner's food, clothes, medical care, dental needs, etc...and at the end of that time, when the criminal is released, there is a strong possibility that he will act out against society again. On the other hand, at less cost than 20 years of idle time, we could send that same criminal to prison for 10 years and gear that time toward advancing formal education and counseling. Not only would it save tax dollars, it would greatly reduce the risk of that individual returning to prison.
Why should we continue to support a criminal justice system that is clearly failing, one that many times over costs the innocent more than the guilty?
It is time for us, as a nation, to demand that our representatives find an answer that works and to stop telling us what they think we want to hear. For a system geared, not toward long term incarceration for punishment, but toward shorter term incarceration with an emphasis on education and rehabilitation, could very well be the solution we are seeking.