Criminal incarceration: Forgive or forget?

EDITOR’S NOTE: Sometimes, Evening Sun reporters just like to argue. In this feature, sides are chosen arbitrarily and do not necessarily reflect the views of the writer. This week, Tyler Murphy and Jeff Genung debate whether its possible to rehabilitate criminals.

When one commits a crime and is found guilty, there are two things that need to be considered – the punishment for that individual and then the rehabilitation of that person, so upon his release he can be assimilated as a beneficial contributor to a community. Rehabilitation can be achieved for most of the prison population. The factors guiding the outcome of a reformed criminal are: The severity of his punishment, exposure to influences and efforts made to educate them. Those exceptions to rehabilitation are the mentally disabled and those suffering extraordinary psychological damage (i.e. serial killers and the like). These two exceptions make up a small percentage of our prison population.

If a person is over-punished for a crime or treated cruelly by a system, it is only rational to assume they will reject that system altogether. So upon release they may harbor contempt for law enforcement, the law and the community as a whole. It is important prisoners understand their punishments and the hardships they’ve created for others. It is also important for them to know that our system is morally propelled in hopes of attaining justice and reason. The influences one is exposed to can have a dramatic effect on a person. Often petit criminals exposed to harsh population of harden criminals will come out of prison worse than before. It is our obligation is to ensure that harden criminal influences are minimized. Programs should be introduced to create stable social climates. Also work details and other activities design to distract and educate prisoners should be employed. It is vital that no other prisoners, no matter their fame, wealth or power should be allowed to excerpt any kind of pressure or privileged on another inmate. Lastly we need to prepare prisoners for their exodus. Programs that offer monetary aid and technical training will help an inmate acquire a stable job upon leaving. The process of assimilation is difficult and all steps to make it easier on an inmate should be taken. We will benefit more from a reformed inmate than sending 10 repeat criminals back to jail. – TDM



You proceed from a false assumption, my young apprentice. Crime – being a criminal – is a choice, not an affliction. Those who wantonly choose to ignore and desecrate the rules of society are doomed to suffer the consequences – removal from that society. Prisons aren’t meant to be reform schools. Jailbirds don’t hate cops because they’ve had a rough time in the pen; they hate cops because they got caught doing something bad. I for one resent any penny of my tax dollar going toward cable television or barbells for inmates, much less hand-holding social programs that only serve to teach these ingrates more ways to take advantage of the system once they get out. If jail time isn’t the most unpleasant experience one can imagine, why sentence incarceration at all? – JMG

Incarceration punishes an individual by seizing the most valuable asset, his freedom. The harsh environment is not supposed to be especially cruel – if that is the argument why not just ship them off to concentration camps ... oh wait we do that, it’s called Guantanamo Bay and every civilized country in the world has condemned us for our practices including the U.N. Crime is not always a choice; often it is an unfortunate consequence of a person’s circumstance. Such circumstances as poverty and emotional relationships run amok. People are not born inherently evil, they are born just like you and I. People having failings and some people face tough choices or don’t know how to make the right ones. These people needed help from the beginning they never got and now they have made their difficulties apparent by committing crime. Most criminals aren’t cold blooded killers or rapists; they are often regular people with problem such as drugs (including alcohol), emotional upset, and ignorance. All these things can be treated. People can be weaned off the drugs and get their emotions under control and people can be educated. They just need to be shown how. And if it’s your money your soul is concerned with, the United States spends as much money on correctional agencies as it does on public education. Beside isn’t the landscape to achieve a greater community? Rehabilitation is the only way to achieve that. – TDM

Prove to me that rehabilitation works and I’ll let you have all the social programs you want. The fact is that rates of recidivism don’t correlate with an inmate’s prison experience one way or the other. Here’s another life lesson for you: Some people are just born bad. No amount of feel-good social work would have prevented a twisted mind like Jeffrey Dahmer’s, for example, from fulfilling its inherently evil destiny. And I’m not just using serial killers in the extreme to make my point – lower-level criminals are just as prone to repeat their crimes no matter how many nights they’ve spent in the lockup or how often they’ve been rebuked by society. Wife-beaters, drunk drivers, bad-check passers – they’re all the same. Gather that police blotter every morning for a few more months, Tyler. You’ll see the same names appear again and again and again. Then talk to me about reform. – JMG

I believe there may be two type of criminals – the inherent and the developed. The inherent makes up a small portion. People who are serial killers and hit men may have serious chemical imbalances in their brains that are probably hereditary. Maybe with some grand strides in biology and psychology that can be remedied as well. It is stunning how many criminals have several commonalties such as poverty, dysfunctional families during childhood and the constant judgment passed over them by society, which you are a part. The simple fact is people are people. For you to believe you were simply born better is arrogant; you were not born with any greater sense of morality than anyone else because if you were, you would obviously harbor some small aspect of empathy. Your parents paid for your early development with money, affection and love which means you have no idea what it might be like to develop without that support. Once you open the door to people being born the way they are, all bets are off and we are all at the mercy of our genetics. But if you can believe that our environment has shaped us then perhaps given the right environment we can repair the damage done by it. People exposed to the wrong ideas and drugs at the wrong time in their life will often walk off the path. You take for granted all the good influences in your life when you trivialize their effect and proclaim your natural born goodness was a result of a gene pool. – TDM

Modern psychoanalysis has created an environment today in which it’s perfectly acceptable to blame any actions in your adult life on a faulty childhood. Take Mark Foley, for example. Seems he sexually harassed his young congressional pages because, way back when, he was touched in naughty places by a member of the clergy. If that’s true, it’s certainly a sad case of history repeating itself – but it doesn’t for a nanosecond excuse the choices that he made as an adult. That’s all a load of bunk. Whether you were brought up by the Cleavers or threatened with one, I believe that it’s the choices we make that define us, not our environment. People overcome crappy childhoods, broken romances or even drug addictions every day without resorting to knocking over a liquor store. One of the first things we teach our children is that actions have consequences. It’s a precept that holds true in our judicial system today – do the crime, do the time. Bending over backwards to coddle criminals while they’re incarcerated sends the wrong message. Sure, give them a second chance once they’ve paid their debt to society, but that’s it. I wouldn’t spend another dime trying to “rehabilitate” someone who habitually ignores the rules of society. – JMG

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