If we want to reduce criminality, we must first understand why it happens. Laws are created, not to tell you what you can't do, but the punishment for breaking what Emile Durkheim called the "collective conscious" of society or the mechanical bonds. If someone violates these rules, we as a society get offended and demand this person be punished. But what about when your society leads you to break the very bonds they dear? The way we as a society deal with criminals is extremely flawed and the solution needs to start with how we view prevention and rehabilitation.
The preventive measures we take in this country are laughable. There is a well established correlation between poverty and crime. This is not because poor people are morally inferior, but that their environments limit their choices. The obvious problem is that we are a capitalist country and as so will have a certain amount of stratification. This is unavoidable, however the way in which we view poverty is not. Americans believe in a meritocracy, that if we work hard enough we can achieve. It is the American dream and part of a long standing ethos. Many people do not want to come to grips with the fact that the meritocracy is a myth. Where you start affects where you end, and social mobility has been stagnating (Scott 2, 2005). The answer would seem to be to somehow raise the floor, even if you have to slightly lower the ceiling. Of course, this is easier said than done. To deny that would be to engage in intellectual dishonesty. The question is, is it worth it?
Is it worth it? That would seem to be the question at the heart at another issue of prevention, drug laws. Addiction is recognized as a medical issue, yet America treats it like an issue for the criminal justice system to handle. For generations there has been a wealth of propaganda on drugs, but it isn't back it by science. Is holding on to your beliefs that using drugs is wrong worth locking people up for what is described as a medical ailment? Is it truly worth it? Or is it time for a sensible drug policy? Is it time for drug offenders to be offered treatment and not prison? Now, often in order to counter the argument for a more liberal drug policy people often cite the violence of the drug trade. This was very much prevalent in the coverage of the crack epidemic. However, the violence of the drug trade is due to the fact that these drugs are illegal. What is going on with gangs is the same thing that happened during prohibition and the rise of organized crime. It didn't work then and it doesn't work now.
Prevention is great, but realistically we can't expect to prevent all crime. Sooner or later someone is going to break the law and as such we must punish them. If people are concerned about recidivism rates then they must look toward how prisoners are rehabilitated and allowed back into society. If you go to jail once that can be the end of your life. It is difficult for a felon to get a job, especially one that can be seen as a prospect for a potential career. It seems, as if, after released from prison, the ex-convict must still pay. It is lorded over them that they committed a crime, many businesses won't hire someone with a record especially if the have just recently been released. Many states take away their rights to vote, some permanent and others only for a certain number of years. If we want felons to enter back into society, to not become recidivists, then we must allow them back into society. We can't have this paradoxical standard of wanting them to make something of themselves but then not allowing them any opportunities, whether it be in jail or once they are released, to do what we ask.
What about personal responsibility? It seems that society is to blame for everything? If left unaccounted, this would assuredly be the most obvious of critiques, so please allow it to be addressed now. Personal responsibility is an important part of this equation. Correlations is not the same as causation, so if it is stated that poverty has a correlation to crime then that must mean not every poor person is a criminal. I am in no way an advocate of not punishing people when they commit a crime. Punishment is just as important as rehabilitation because there must be a consequence for breaking the law and the punishment must fit the crime. However, where a correlation exists, there shows that something could make an otherwise undesirable act more justifiable. If we want crime reduction, then we must address not only the personal accountability of the issue, but the aspects in which they aren't necessarily accountable for. It only makes sense to approach the issue of crime this way, or else any solution offered would be incomplete or inhumane. Some people who would critique the position presented in this article might decry a nanny state, that a man (or woman) should be able to make it by pulling themselves up by their own boot straps. In an ideal world, that may be true but it is cruel, as Martin Luther King Jr said, to tell a man to pull himself up by his boot straps when he doesn't have any boots. Other people might say that we don't owe respect to anyone that doesn't respect society. Maybe that has some weight to it, but can we truly say that for those who felt society turned its back on them? The question is, the central thesis is that is ideology worth imprisoning people who prevention could help? Is holding on to a flawed ethos worth turning our collective backs on our countrymen? Or is the reverse true? Is it worth modifying our outlook, to stop people before they ever get introduced to the criminal justice system? I think so, and I hope you do as well.
Scott, Janny. "Shadowy Lines that Still Divide". Class Matters. 2005. The New York Times Company.