Monday, June 23, 2014

Crime and Punishment

In this country, politicians often like to talk about being tough on crime. Unfortunately they are rarely tough on crime, what they are is tough on criminals. Our criminal justice system is unquestionably focused primarily on punishment, it is regulated vengeance, with a side order of supposed "deterrence". Yet there's little evidence that prison time is a particularly strong deterrent for the most common type of criminals. Consider this TED talk.

The FATALITY rate during the crack epidemic for low level drug dealers was absurd, and yet people continued to do it. If the fear of death doesn't dissuade people from committing crimes, what chance does 5-20 years of prison stand? So our prisons are simply warehouses intended to make the rest of the population feel better because the criminals are "paying for their crimes". Yet crime is still a major problem, and though violent crime rates has been steadily declining for decades, our incarceration rates are higher than ever. This is because we treat criminals as the disease, rather than crime. Criminals are symptoms, and incarcerating them is just treating the symptom. Crime is a societal disease which grows most readily in areas of persistent poverty, disenfranchisement, and lack of stability. So long as we simply leave crime to fester in our prison populations and then release them back into the same desperate communities they came from, with no serious attempt at treating the underlying causes of the disease, with no intervention to change the social dynamic from which consistent crime originates, we will never see a truly profound reduction in crime. Simply writing off criminals as "deserving what they get" is both unethical and horribly shortsighted, as it ignores the reality of recidivism and the long term impacts of a large convict and ex-convict population, a population even more locked out of the system which is meant to nurture this country and all it's citizens. So long as we have large populations of people who feel that the system hurts them more than helps them, we will continue to see high crime rates, and all the costs associated. There are people looking to change our approach to crime and punishment, among them Shaka Senghor.

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