Alternative to Prison
The author of this brief repot has been asked to respond to an idea that is increasing in volume and prevalence in modern American society. Indeed, the incarceration rate for people in general is rather high and law enforcement agencies are seeking ways to lower offender rates in the first place and lower recidivism rates for those that end up offending anyway. There is indeed a nasty cycle whereby people get into the “system” once and then they keep reoffending and subsequently keeping getting jailed for their continued offenses. An essay that was reviewed in advance of this report suggests some education-based ways to at least try to prevent future offenses and expunge the records of offenders. While the author of this response does agree with the idea of the essay in general, there has to be some exceptions and special handling depending on the nature, severity and level of violence for the crime involved.
The idea put forward in the essay reviewed for this report is a good one on paper. However, there are three ways in which it needs to be massaged and considered so as to maximize the results and not waste time on people that are not interested in doing the right thing (even when offered) and/or that should be in jail. Beyond that, poverty is a driver for a lot of crime. Technically, the people that are poor and that commit crimes (violent ones in particular) are absolutely responsible for what they do and should not even try to use their empty wallets as a crutch to support their crime. However, it is still a fact that crime would be less than what it currently is if poverty did not exist on the level that it did. The same poverty dynamic affects education in inner city and similar areas in much the same way, that being very negatively.
In any event, the first example that should be added to the ideas of the reviewed essay is that violent criminals should not be given as much (if any) mercy, chances at expungement and so forth as more docile and less violent offenders. Indeed, a man raping a woman should absolutely be in jail (and for a long time) while a person who steals a bike but has an otherwise clean record should absolutely get a second chance. Indeed, the nature of the offense does matter and so does how contrite and regretful the person is when they enter the court room. If they are defiant and unapologetic, an attempt at redemption should potentially be rescinded until they realize (if ever) the gravity of the path they are on.
Second, what was just mentioned in the last section is another part of the equation. Just like drug addicts cannot be forced to quit using drugs or hanging around users and just like the mentally ill have to have some part in their recovery and improvement, the same is true of offenders that are being offered a second chance. As noted before, if an offender keeps asking for second chances but squanders them or they are ambivalent about the crimes they committed or the people they victimized in the first place, then expungement (at the very least) should be off the table until the attitude changes. Beyond that, if a person clears their record and then reoffends, another chance at expungement should not be forthcoming unless a good amount of time (at least five years) has passed since the last offense. In general, there a few details that the author of this report would quibble with. First, these “second chances” should be diversions. There should be no “wiping clean” until he program is completed…period. Second, the “no matter how minor” clause is a little too aggressive. If someone in a program for theft is found with a joint of marijuana, that is not a good thing. However, having that person being thrown in jail for that alone is perhaps excessive. The caveat to that is if the diversion/program has a caluse that explicitly prohibits any crime and/or certain activities (weed, alcohol, etc.). If those things are crystal clear to the inmate (meaning they have to sign off on that deal) and they still offend, all bets are off.
Finally, the third example is that jails are probably over-used in general and house arrest and other options should absolutely be in play. As noted by the essay, specially trained probation officers can be used to track them and those officers should not be overloaded. The essay’s words about these agents “not having a caseload of more than 25” sounds about right. However, the people in these parole and/or probation programs should have it made clear that their complete and unquestioned compliance is demanded (not asked for) and that jail awaits them if they start trying to bend the rules including leaving home when they are not supposed to, not reporting…