The philosopher Plato once said, The Law, like a good archer, should aim at the right measure of punishment . In society today, crime and injustice rule the modern world. Because of this, prisons have become a permanent part of America s criminal justice system. Throughout history, modern societies have felt compelled to incriminate those men and women who violate what is thought to be acceptable behavior. Most sophisticated members of society would vote to throw all criminals in jail, regardless of their reasons or means for violating social mores. But we, the voting citizens of the United States, should not automatically sentence every criminal offender to an elongated jail term. We must treat every case and offense individually so that we may rehabilitate, instead of casting social violators off into a modern day dungeon to rot.
But for some socially abiding citizens of America, rotting, is exactly what these offenders should do. These people would argue that the best way to stop crime is to lock the offenders away from society. With the criminals in jail, the law-abiding citizens are free to live without fear. For too long we have worried about the well-being of the criminal offenders, when the concern should be on the protection of our society. As the saying goes, Don t do the crime, if you can t do the time. Criminal offenders must be held responsible for their actions. Too often in America the criminal is viewed as the victim, with society providing the excuses and means for criminal activity. G.K. Chesterton brings up an important point on the fallacy brought forth by these excuses that crime is a disease, stating that evil is a matter of active choice, whereas disease is not. For many Americans, the honest citizen should not be punished for the active choices of a select few. The punishment for the violators should be prison, where society would be protected from the criminal behavior of the socially unstable.
But is this the best way to approach this situation? In America we now have a prison system that is increasing in numbers by 8.2% annually, costing us over 13,000 dollars a year to keep each prisoner. As of January 1999, state and federal prisons were operating at over 25% capacity. If we were to build the necessary beds required to accommodate each prisoner, it would cost over 6 billion dollars, or about $150,000 per crime. Obviously, this is not an acceptable federal plan for smart spending. But some people would argue that this money is worth it to keep our citizens safe. In actuality, prisons do have some protective benefits if hard-core prisoners were locked away forever, but as it is, average imprisonment in America is only 24 to 32 months. In current jail systems, violent inmates are mixed with non-violent ones; first-time offenders are often mixed with veterans. Our jail system is a school where rage, hostility, and violence are the norm. In most cases the punishment received within prison damages the prisoner, and consequently, creates more danger to society. A study done in Los Angeles and Alameda counties over a 40-month period found that out of 1,672 men, over 65% were arrested following their jail term, with 75% of these crimes being serious felonies. In most cases prison terms are neither cost effective, or reliable. The revolving door of the prison system, is serving to do nothing more than educate our prisoners, feed them well, and take care of them, before sending them off into society to commit crimes again. The numbers regarding the success (or lack there of) of prison terms does not lie, but if prison is not the answer, what methods should be used to rehabilitate offenders?
This is not an argument that offenders should not be punished, in some cases long prison terms are what a person needs to keep them from crime. But for most criminals in society, there is a better way to keep the streets of America safe. Selective imprisonment, a method that uses experts to determine which criminals are more likely to commit more crimes and which are not, should be looked at as a solution to today s problems. After criminals receive clinical analysis, those who are more likely to commit crimes once they are released, criminals with violent or dangerous backgrounds, and repeat offenders spend more time in jail. This approach to punishment reduces jail over-population, and if used effectively, will reduce crime rates. For those people who do not fall under the aforementioned categories, there are countless other opportunities for rehabilitation. For drug offenders, there are many great opportunities for rehabilitation besides jail, where drugs are readily available. The Walden House, in San Francisco, Free At Last, in Oakland, and thousands of other hospitals are available for use by substance abusers, if the law allows. For women with children, hospitals have been set up where women can live with their child, receive job training, and spend time doing community service. These are just a few examples of what we should be working on to help, not only the criminals of America, but its free citizens as well.
Training the criminals of America to become law-abiding citizens is not an easy task.
The key to success is finding the proper balance between who belongs in jail, and who does not. All criminals do not deserve to spend years of their lives in prisons, and it will take cooperation from all forms of government and society to achieve the proper balance for peace in America.