A dish served hot in America
BY Daniel Labbe
With the world's largest prison population,
cities brimming with gang violence, drug addiction, and
homelessness, and ever-increasing acts of catastrophic
violence it is obvious that the United States, land of
opportunity, freedom, and the American Dream, is in
desperate need of some soul-searching.
There is no way we can continue to keep our Patriotic
heads buried in the sand chanting, "Everything's all right.
Everything is fine." Just take a look at tonight's
new broadcast. You will see that everything is certainly
So what's wrong? Well, for many Americans Personal
safety and the safety of their families and friends is
becoming a growing and even urgent, concern. In the past
America has addressed this issue by creating stiffer
sentencing laws, beefing up police forces, and building more
prisons while stripping those prisons of rehabilatative
programs (they were viewed as luxeries that inmates did not
deserve). This has been our response to violence and crime
for over 25 years now. How bad do things have to get
for us to realize that this stradegy isn't working?
So if our current policies aren't working why do we
persist in using them? One reason is that we are still
reacting to the issue emotionally rather than rationally.
The elephant in the room is now crushing us. Will we still
Policies based on emotional hetoric are dangerous and manifulative.
When someone violates our safety, property, or rights
we get angry and fearful, which is natural, but then we
want payback. With a sense of hastility and vengence we
demand our pound of flesh. This is the emotional base
currently supporting our sense of justice in America today.
If we look at individuals who react to events emotionally
we find out how dangerous and ineffective this approach is.
In fact, our prisons today are filled with such individuals. If
we look at our own lives we can see how problematic reacting
emotionally is, so why would we base something so idealistic
and impactful as our sense of justice on something so
base and volatile as hostile emotions?
So what does this mean in Practical terms? Today we
are fortunate enough to have access to a wide variety of
extremely effective models for criminal rehabilitaion. These
programs have been shown to significantly reduce recidiuism
rates and increase the overall health and well-being of
participants, which is good news for the communities they return
to. The problem is that these programs are not being put to
use. Instead they are tested as pilot programs then once
the results are analyzed the program is dropped. This
happens over and over again across the whole country. The
most common reasons cited are "there isn't enough fundin",
"It's a luxury the offenders don't deserve", and "It isn't
based on punishment." You will hear variations of these
reasons as excuses why rehabilitating criminals is not a
priority. But the cost to our communities is enormous
and unacceptable in a society that claims to lead the
world in human rights, democracy, and freedom.
Our cultural sense of justice sets limits on what we will
allow and reach for.
Because the programs and models for effective criminal
rehabilitation are available, the next step for creating a
safer, more humane and evolved America will have to come
from its citizens (of course, the offenders have to take
responsibility as well. For more on this see my article entitled
Prison Reform; True change begins with us). As a culture
we need to examine our definition of justice and own
up to the emotional, and even barbaric components
comprising it. Once seen for its primitive and damaging
effects we can redefine what justice means to us. We
can create a sense of justice that is nobler, based on
reason, and results in a justice system that reflects
our highest valves. Until that happens politicians and
law-makers will not be able to (or motivated to) make use
of the amazing models and methods for rehabilitation
available to us today. There just won't be the necessary
support to create the systemic changes that are needed.
So what would a healthier, nobler, definition of
justice look like? I would like to introduce the idea
that the only true justice is a truly rehabilitated
offender. Think about it. When someone committs a
crime against me the primitive part of me wants revenge,
wants to see the offender suffer. But how does this equal
true justice? If after the offender does time in a
harsh, punishing environment, a place full of hate, hostility
listening to the primitive side of myself is what landed me
in prison. Why would I allow this part to define my sense
of justice (or any of my values)?
and violence, he is released to the streets angrier and
more likely to committ new crimes...how is that justice?
Should I now feel that justice has been served? But if
the offender is sentenced to a program where he is
encouraged to take responsibility for his crimes, is given the
chance to address the issues causing him to act out in
criminal ways and comes out of it a better person much
less likely to committ more crimes and even contributes to his
community...wouldn't that allow me to feel justice has been
served? Of course, not all inmates can be rehabilitated, but
wouldn't there be a much higher rate of rehabilitaion if
such an outlook and approached was embraced? Alson, regardless
of results, wouldn't we as an "evolved" society rather say
that this is the approach we take toward criminal justice
rather than the approach based on emotional reactions, on
hostility, vengence, and exacting our pound of flesh?
As a culture, it's time for our ethical and emotional
progress to equal our technological progress, because emotionally
and ethically we're still a primitive society, and the cost is
If we take the time to examine and redefine what justice
means to us we would then have the support to create a justice
system that reflects that new definition. Until that happens all the
great programs and models in the world will do us no good
because we'll have a system based on vengence, hostility and
the ever-delicious pound of flesh.
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