Theories about stopping crime have been in and out of style for hundreds of years. We have tried making them repent (penitentiaries), reformation (reformatories), odd treatment (such as castration) and punishment (prisons). In the USA, we stand as a punitive nation. As the saying goes, “If you do the crime, you must do the time.” After the crime we try to punish them as hard and as long as possible.
Our prisons have swelled to over 2.2 million behind bars, not including county systems. The prisons have become a big business that has attracted private companies and many support businesses. If you want to see a bunch of smiling faces, attend a national corrections conference. Look at the vendors selling everything from razor wire to uniforms; watch their grins broaden as they contemplate another year of increasing profits.
We, the average citizen, must pay more every year to support this behemoth. So, how can we stop the taxes from sucking us dry, increase public safety and reduce crime? First, we must summon enough courage to admit the system is broken – everything from arrest through trial and onto eventual release needs a lot of fresh thought and true reform. We can no longer listen to the ranting and posturing of politicians telling us to build more prisons, invent new penalties and throw away the key. Yes, lock somebody up and they can’t commit new crimes out in public for awhile, however, 95% of them do get out.
Of course, we need punishment and long-term sentences for certain crimes. We don’t need a bleeding heart approach either. What we need is a common sense approach that takes in more factors than somebody did crime, they were caught, couldn’t afford a good lawyer and now must go to prison. That might make some victims satisfied temporarily, but what about the rest of the picture? For example, what happens to their spouses and children? Who supports the remaining family? What condition are returning prisoners in? Are we prepared to help them adjust to society or is our secret hope they’ll soon go back to prison again?
If you took all the inmates whose crimes centered around drugs and alcohol and released them, that would empty at least half our prisons. This is not a good idea, of course, but what about the idea of putting hundreds of millions of dollars into therapies and programs that work? Do we really think keeping somebody locked up, removed from friends and family, deprived of meaningful work/income and forced to be 24/7 with other criminals is the best idea we can come up with?
Wake up! Research a little and look at modalities that change a person from a criminal to a responsible citizen. There are lots of them – most of them are under-funded and under-reported. Why don’t we demand results from our prisons? Why should we fork out billions and get a 25% success rate? Let’s put pressure on politicians to tell the truth and ask for sense in criminal justice. Yes, folks, the facts are in – prisons ultimately produce more crime than they prevent! The joke is that most criminal justice leaders know it. We’re being treated like sheep to be sheared, “Line up little ones. Pay more taxes. Trust us. Criminals are less than human and need cages.”
Let’s allocate more money for prevention, intervention and treatment. We already can identify, during their school years, which children will probably go to prison. Why not invest in them earlier rather than later? Won’t that save a lot of victims along the way? How about the addicted people? Surely we can come up with ideas other than waiting until they commit crimes and then locking them up. How about money for effective programs on the inside? Let’s not be content to let them just freeload and do time. How about they pay back for their crimes? What about the thousands we lock up for mental issues? Shouldn’t we address the problem more honestly rather than let them bleed into the prison system?
Join educated citizenry by looking for and demanding better solutions than we’re being handed. There are good opportunities and solid alternatives already out there. Let’s shift more money that direction. We also have a lot of bright and concerned people who can discover other methods. Reward groups who have proven results and take the candy out of the politicians’ hands.