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One of the schools I teach at is The National Paralegal College, which has an interesting Facebook page where faculty and students are encouraged to submit and comment on posted articles relating to law, politics and policy. Below is an excerpt of a discussion on crime and punishment.
Professor Stephen Haas: The reasons for punishment are explored in this New York Times article, “How we punish crime.” Have we moved too far toward punishment and away from incapacitation and rehabilitation?
Student Renée Hendrix: I believe so. If we make no meaningful efforts toward rehabilitation and reintegration, then we can’t really be surprised at our dismal recidivism rate. The judiciary is, I believe, also increasingly sending those convicted of lesser crimes to rehabilitation centers or alternative programs. Despite our cultural desire to increase the harshness and deprivation of prisons, we know that rehabilitation programs affect recidivism rates, which makes it less expensive and better for everyone.
Professor Matt Bycer: Law professor David Wexler has been studying and lobbying for this for years at the International Network on Therapeutic Jurisprudence. Neither the article nor any of the readers’ comments defended the current system. All sought a solution, and virtually all cite the same easily correctable problems. Is this a symptom of the fact that the article was printed in a liberal paper and commented on by a self-selecting set of lefties? Or perhaps we can see exactly why no changes are being implemented (as hinted in Mr. Corwin’s initial letter). As Mr. Corwin points out, one reason for reforming the U.S. prison system is to “frustrate the private prison industry’s unconscionable efforts to profit off mass incarceration.” This reason stands apart from the other reasons, as the sole antagonistic motive. Why, if everyone wants less people in prison, would a “democratic” society put so many people behind bars? You might think the cause would be that criminals can’t vote, so the vast majority of good citizens are in favor of long prison sentences, but that is not the case. In an era of increased private spending on elections, lobbying and corruption, is it not all too clear why our system is out of whack? Private interests have much to lose if we conduct our society in a better fashion. With the deplorable Citizens United decision, even profits from corrupt government kickbacks are “free speech” protectable under the First Amendment.
Professor Ellis Washington: To professor Bycer’s question: Why, if everyone wants less people in prison, would a “democratic” society put so many people behind bars? I would answer: To keep criminals, sociopaths and psychopaths from wantonly preying upon law-abiding citizens and causing societal anarchy (as we presently have in America). Your non sequitur to the Citizens United case reveals your real issue: You hate the fact that conservatives have an equal voice with liberals in political speech, and you want to go back to the good ol’ days (1954-94) when congressional Republicans were the loyal minority content to play golf and sip cocktails with the Democrats, but shut out of the smoke-filled back rooms where real political power was wielded. To quote my Jewish friends regarding the Holocaust … Never Again!
Professor Matt Bycer: Thank you, professor Washington, for allowing me to respond to your comment. First, you say: “I would answer … (as we presently have in America).” So, are you saying that the current system does not work? We are jailing more people than any other civilized country to prevent anarchy, yet that is exactly to what this has led us.
Second, you want sociopaths and psychopaths off the streets. We see that a large portion of incriminated individuals are in prison for minor drug possession. Many were just in the wrong place at the wrong time, or associating with poor-principled individuals. Some are even innocent of the crimes of which they were convicted! Is there a price we have to pay to keep sociopaths off the streets that includes thousands, or even millions, of people locked up when they should be monitored and/or rehabilitated?
Third, my point re the Citizen United v. United States case is that when public moneys go to private corporations who are then able to lobby and guide legislation, you get a corrupt feedback loop.
P.S.: Please, in any comment or debate with me, please refrain from mentioning the Nazis or the Holocaust. It is just bad form.
Professor Ellis Washington: Professor Bycer: Regarding your points – first, did it ever occur to you that America may be jailing more people than any other nation because society is devolving now into anarchy because a certain political party thrives in chaos? I believe the incarcerated would (if they could) vote for Obama at about 104 percent.
Secondly, I was born in the ghettos of Detroit. From kindergarten to grade 12, I daily walked to school avoiding utter human despair – con artists, pimps, prostitutes, pedophiles, drug addicts, drunks and gangs. Societal deconstruction is not theory to me; it’s very real, so when you use phrases like “wrong place at the wrong time” or “associating with poor-principled individuals,” that is the same liberal propaganda I heard at Harvard 24 years ago when I attended that school with Barack Obama. The difference is that I used my mind to filter out dangerous Marxist/socialist paradigms while he, Michelle Obama (and many, many others) uncritically accepted a socialist/progressive worldview and were rewarded by going on to lucrative and influential careers. Also regarding point 2, we should take a page from the Middle Ages and make crime and punishment a more public event so that the young people can see the destructive path their criminal actions will lead to. To a very limited degree, the popular TV shows “Scared Straight” and “Beyond Scared Straight” seems to have taken this approach.
Third, the framers of the Constitution didn’t make any distinctions between “public” and “private” corporations on the freedom-of-speech question … and neither should we if we call ourselves constitutionalists. Finally, professor Bycer, I’ll try to remember your aversion to Nazi metaphors (why, may I ask?), but may I use a quote by the great Spanish philosopher George Santayana? “The one who does not remember history is bound to live through it again.” Oh, I’m sorry, but I just remembered that quote is inscribed in a memorial at the Auschwitz [Concentration Camp] Museum. I did it again (LoL).
Professor Matt Bycer: Can you imagine a solution?