People rightly shudder about the potential effects of letting so many criminals out at once. After all, many of these felonshave spent years becoming bigger, better and more menacing criminals. Most of them lack the education, skills and social connections to become productive members of society when they get out.
In many ways, this is where we as a society failed those around us. Sure, we all want crime cleaned up and off our streets. But we can’t just forget about what happens to criminals once they’re put away. For many, it’s a question of “if” not “when” these folks will return to society. And how we treat those individuals while they have nothing but time on their hands is a responsibility that in some measure should fall to us, if we truly care about the long-term implications of their incarceration.
Here is where the value and sheer potency of the human mind once again emerges. These prisoners may have lost their freedoms, but their minds still remain sharp and unharnessed – open to new values we can instill in them.
For years, many social advocacy organizations have urged the government to use precious resources to invest in education rather than prisons. The long run benefits, they argued, greatly outweigh the costs to society. But in the midst of a major drug epidemic, such arguments largely fell on deaf ears. Voters wanted criminals off the street immediately, and were willing to rob the schools to pay for jails. Moreover, in order to lock more people up, prison education, counseling and rehabilitation programs were slashed.
Consider if the opposite had occurred. What if, 20years ago, instead of succumbing to a knee-jerk reaction to crime, we looked at the root causes: idleness; lack of constructive activities for youth; and a dearth of positive role models? What if criminals were subjected to mandatory education and rehabilitation services that gave them the skills and social networks to survive in a legal occupation when they got out?
Let’s be clear: I’m not arguing that we appease criminal behavior here. Some simply cannot be saved nor rescued from the recesses of evil. History is full of those people, where the only place they belong is in a cage. But for each of those hardened animals, there are dozens more showing true potential for reform.
At some point we as a society have to make a rational determination that harnessing positive productive capacity makes more sense than paying an exorbitant price to keep able bodied men, women and even children locked away.
We can no longer afford to look the other way and expect our tax dollars and our leaders to simply lock up our offenders –violent and non-violent – and throw away the key. The case in California shows the folly of such an exercise. We live in different times; modern times that demand more modern approaches to age-old dilemmas. At this juncture in our nation, we should seize every opportunity to increase the opportunity for intellectual good in our society.
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