Let's be clear. There are definitely some people that are far beyond rehabilitation, and that we owe it to ourselves as a society to protect each other from them. Sociopaths, Rapists, Murderers, Child Molesters. But these people do not make up the majority of our criminals in the penal system. In fact, most prisoners are there because of drugs, and drug related offenses.
Now we can debate about the war on drugs, but I am a staunch, and stubborn believer, that we long ago, lost that un-winable war. But how do we address society's ills?
Let's start with Drugs, since they make up the majority of our criminal system. For starters, we need to decriminalize personal drug use. Even if we do not legalize, we can certainly handle non-violent drug offenders much better than we do. You see, when you put a guy in jail for drugs. And you stick him in with REAL criminals, they learn to become REAL Criminals. When they get out, no one wants to hire them (Would you hire an ex-con to work in your business? Be honest!) With no prospect of employment, and society labeling them pariahs, they turn to what they know...CRIME (which they learned from the criminals we locked them in with). So they become a new blight on society, and we in turn send them back to jail to teach a new crop of Non-violent drug offenders how to become criminals.
Now, there is also Cost. I would think this part of the issue would help drive a prison reform movement. You see, it costs about $60,000 a year to house a criminal in jail. But it costs less than $30,000 to send a drug addict to an in house recovery program. And here's the kicker, Drug addicts who go to jail have about a 70% recidivism rate (chance of returning to prison). Drug addicts who go to treatment facilities have about a 30% recidivism rate. So, let's get this straight... It's cheaper, AND works better to send them to drug treatment, than it does to Jail. Why are we not doing this? En Masse?
Ed Burns, the brilliant writer, director, and creator of the tv show The Wire (My all time favorite show) has called for Jury Nullification. He says that until we stop locking up non-violent drug offenders, we should, if called to serve on a jury, nullify, and find not guilty all non violent drug offenses. Not the ones where someone was shot, or hurt, but things like simple possession . I'm not sure if I agree or not. I've struggled with my thoughts on this. He is absolutely right about drug sentences being disproportionately out of whack. In some states three times getting caught with a bag of weed will get you 25-life. The guy who killed my ex-wife got 7 years. Killing someone is worth 7 years, and having a bag of pot is worth a life sentence? Does this make sense? No, of course not.
Now as for "Real" criminals (the rapists, and others I mentioned before) We do need to keep these people locked away. And we need to treat their mental, and social disabilities. We need to find ways to teach these people new skill sets, because many of them will be released into our communities. Wouldn't you rather this person have been given some sort of therapy to deal with their social ills, before being set free? Even if it only works at a 20% rate. That's better than the next to zero % rate it is today.
It's supposed to be the department of "Corrections". We are supposed to be correcting the problems these men and women have. Not punishing them. When we are victimized, it is natural to want vengeance. But vengeance is not justice. And punishment is not correction. When I was a union steward I used to ask managers in discipline meetings what the objective, or goal of a discipline was. Was it to be Punitive or Corrective? Because punitive only causes the person to feel bitter, and to seek their own perceived vengeance. But corrective works towards fixing a problem or a deficiency. And can turn someone who might've been an almost worthless worker, into a productive one. I've seen it work. And again, even if it only works less than half of the time..it still fix's enough of the people who re-renter society to make a noticeable difference.
Tell me what you all think.
oh, and I haven't even touched the death penalty.......