What Is Our Responsibility to Convicts? Part 1

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As some of you know, I have become a recent college student. My current degree pursuit is in the field of Criminal Justice. My first two courses are “Intro to Criminal Justice” and “Corrections”. These classes have been tremendous eye-openers for me.

As a taxpayer, I don’t question where my money goes. I somehow trust our incompetent government to decide how best to utilize the money they take from us. We may not all agree on our politics, but I bet we can agree on one thing: there never seems to be enough money to go around. Hospitals need more funding…schools need more funding…social services need more funding…and prisons need more funding.

I find it interesting that my instructor is a “Lock ’em up and throw away the key!” kind of guy. He is very militant-minded: he is an Army vet, having served in Iraq more than once as infantry. For those of you who don’t know what that means, he was “front-line”, battling the enemy. Now that he’s safely out, he is a federal police officer. So you and I can imagine that this dude has seen some stuff. When I consider his decades of experience, I know that it must be easy for him to take the stance that people who do bad things need to punished, immediately and with as much harshness as possible. A part of me understands that: If I were the victim of a terrible crime, I would want the offender to pay in every way imaginable. Still, something we have to consider is that one day, the convicts leave prison and become our next door neighbors.

There are several critical points that plague prisons, and these issues have been ongoing for as long as prisons have existed: Why don’t we just build more prisons? What type of punishment is suitable for the convict? How can he repay the victim for what he’s done? Should we rehabilitate him or leave him alone to do his time? Should we try juveniles as adults?

I’ll give you a brief answer for each of these questions so you can see how complicated the matter is. Studies show that, “If you build it, they will come”. Prisons are insanely expensive to build–upwards of tens of millions of dollars. Because politicians garner votes on promising tougher laws and punishments on crime, there is never enough space to maintain all those who have been sentenced. You know those heart-felt “victim-impact” statements you tearfully listen to when watching your favorite reality crime show? They have very little impact, if any, on sentencing! It may bring closure to the victim or the families to read them out loud to the court, but they most likely will not affect the judge’s sentencing.

Judges have much to consider, including prison overcrowding. Unless we have been to prison ourselves, we have all been blissfully unaware of how bad it is. It’s so bad that many non-violent criminals will never see the inside of jail or prison. Instead, they will walk the streets on probation. More on this to follow in the next article…

Writer: CJ Heath

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