It seems to me…
“Crime and bad lives are the measure of a State’s failure, all crime in the end is the crime of the community.” ~ H. G. Wells.
The percentage of a country’s population in prison probably is one of the best indicators of the basic health of that country. If so, the U.S. definitely is need of some health care.
For the most part, those convicted of having committed an offense are already without sufficient financial resources to provide an adequate standard of living for themselves and their families. That said, insufficient attention has been directed to eliminating the basic causes for crime rather than strictly focusing on punishment. Today, the general public is aware only of the total costs of the legal system; a more affective way of bring these to the public’s attention is needed as reform will not occur until the majority of the public recognizes the financial benefit of prevention rather than punishment. It seems somewhat incongruous at a time when budgets are being slashed that conservatives constantly demand stricter punishment for criminal activity further increasing incarceration costs.
[i]The United States has the highest documented incarceration rate in the world. According to U.S. Bureau of Justice Statistics (BJS) at the end of 2009, 7,225,800 people were on probation, in jail or prison, or on parole — about 3.1 percent of adults in the U.S. resident population, or 1 in every 32 adults. The UK has the highest relative prison population in Europe with about 1 in 709 of its citizens imprisoned.
[ii]The U.S. also has the highest total documented prison and jail population in the world with its prison population accounting for fully a quarter of the world’s prisoners. No other country in the world comes close to these numbers. The far more populous China ranks second, with a prison population of approximately 1.5 million. The number of incarcerated persons in the U.S. now exceeds the population of all but three cities in the country and is equivalent to the combined populations of Seattle, Boston, Atlanta, and Washington, D.C.
Recidivism also is extremely high in the U.S. with 53 percent of arrested males and 39 percent of arrested females being re-incarcerated (2003). While criminal recidivism is highly correlated with psychopathy, one of the main reasons why released prisoners find themselves back in jail is the difficulty for the individual to fit back into ‘normal’ life. They have to reestablish ties with their family, return to high-risk locations, and secure formal identification; they often have a poor work history and now have a criminal record to deal with[iii].
Rehabilitation is the idea of ‘curing’ an offender of his or her criminal tendencies, of changing their habits, their outlook, and possibly even personality, so as to make them less inclined to commit crimes in the future[iv]. It seeks to prevent a person from reoffending by taking away the desire to offend. This is very different from the idea of ‘deterrence’ (which is the idea of making him afraid to offend, though he may still desire to), and the idea of ‘incapacitation’ (which is the idea of taking away his physical power to offend, though he may still desire to but be unafraid to). These three consequentialist, or utilitarian approaches, are in turn very different from the penological idea of ‘retribution’ which is not primarily about reducing reoffending.
The retributive idea is that punishment should be determined chiefly (possibly even only) by the seriousness of the crime itself, and not by consequentialist factors, such as whether the punishment is enough to scare (i.e., deter) the rest of society. It is a very serious mistake to think the retributive criminal justice system ideal is about vengeance, retaliation, or payback. Rather, it is an extremely sophisticated idea that often forms the basis of, and arguably even is, the leading indication of a developed sentencing system. The term ‘retribution’ is unfortunate because its everyday meaning connotes ‘revenge’.
The debate between rehabilitation and retribution involves two broad questions: ideologically, which is the more satisfactory justification for punishment; and practically, which can serve as a more useful guide for sentencers and other agents in the criminal justice system? Attempts at rehabilitation have been judged a failure. On 18 January 1989, the abandonment of rehabilitation in corrections was confirmed by the U.S. Supreme Court. In Mistretta vs. United States, the Court upheld federal “sentencing guidelines” which removed rehabilitation from serious consideration when sentencing offenders[v]: defendants were to be sentenced strictly for the crime. By almost an 8 to 1 margin (87 percent to 11 percent), the U.S. voting public is in favor of rehabilitative services for prisoners as opposed to a punishment-only system. Of those polled, 70 percent favored these services both during incarceration and after release from prison.
All of this brings other factors into question. The American Rifle Association and other conservative groups promote gun ownership as the best way to deter crime. If this is so, why does the U.S. have the highest crime rate when we also have the highest percentage of gun ownership? There are a number of initial steps that would start to positively change public opinion regarding weapons.
We need to bring back the Brady Law. The Brady Act required background checks to be conducted on individuals prior to a firearm purchase from a federally licensed dealer, manufacturer, or importer (92 percent of background checks through the NICS are completed while the FBI is on the phone with the gun dealer). Occasionally, a gun purchaser may have to wait for up to three business days if the NICS system fails to positively approve or deny his/her application to purchase a firearm. If a denial is not issued within those three days, the transfer may be completed at that time. From 1994 through 2009, over 107 million background checks were conducted[vi] with 1.9 million (1.4 percent) attempted firearm purchases blocked by the background check system. For checks done by the Federal Bureau of Investigation in 2009, felons accounted for 48 percent of denials and fugitives from justice accounted for 16 percent of denials. The ban on domestic sales of assault rifles, which was allowed to expire in 2004, also needs to be reinstated. There isn’t any legitimate justification for assault weapon ownership.
Manufacturers should be required to registers all weapons produced. Every firearm leaves a set of unique marks not only on the bullet but also on the case enabling police to track bullets and their casings the same way investigators run fingerprint checks. Firearm fingerprinting can be an invaluable tool to law enforcement since it can link together crimes that otherwise would be pursued as separate cases. An automated tracing system was created (Integrated Ballistics Identification System) to implement this identification. This would permit cradle-to-grave weapon ownership traceability of all sales of registered weapons.
At least 70 percent of the weapons used in Mexico come from the U.S. (the origin of most of the remaining weapons could not be determined). Felipe Calderon, President of Mexico stated, “I accuse the U.S. weapons industry of (responsibility for) the deaths of thousands of people that are occurring in Mexico. It is for profit, for the profits that it makes for the weapons industry”. The U.S. bears substantial culpability for the drug-related violence across our border in Mexico and it is time to acknowledge our responsibility for this activity.
The NRA instead of continuing to support misuse and criminal ownership of weapons should be the provider of mandatory weapons safety classes for weapon purchasers prior to sale completion.
In the interest of full disclosure, just in case anyone might think otherwise, I personally own a number of rifles, shotguns, and handguns and have enjoyed using them my entire life. It should be obvious to anyone that what we currently are doing is not working and that something else needs to be done.
That’s what I think, what about you?
[i] Wikipedia. Incarceration in the United States, http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Incarceration_in_the_United_States.
[ii] Spencer, Naomi. US Prison Population At All Time High, http://www.wsws.org/articles/2007/sep2007/pris-s29.shtml, 29 September 2007.
[iv] Tan, Nicholas. Rehabilitation vs. Retribution, http://www.idebate.org/debatabase/topic_details.php?topicID=307..
[vi] Wikipedia. Brady Handgun Violence Prevention Act, http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Brady_Handgun_Violence_Prevention_Act.