Monday, November 25, 2013

Why We Shouldn't Punish Criminals

You've likely heard the archaic phrase, "An eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth;" still a modern day concept that the punishment should fit the crime. Gandhi is attributed as quipping that this would, of course, leave the world blind and toothless. Long ago, it is recorded that Jesus also spoke against this by saying, "but I tell you, do not resist an evil person." He continued to say that we should repay evil with good and to turn the other cheek. Yet are either methods very viable? Since the beginning of sentience even until now, an eye for an eye has held to be the most common form of judicial system. Despite being cautioned against even 2000 years ago, it seems to be the only thing we've thought of thus far. While we've evolved socially in so many important ways, our concept of justice seems to be lagging behind and few seem to have realized it. Perhaps we take Gandhi's and Jesus' teachings as a personal matter and exempt government from needing to do likewise. It's easy enough to consider the government authoritative and thus it is permitted to inflict punishment without the same kind of repercussions an individual would face. But I ask the question, what good is punishment to begin with? The data seems to indicate that it's merely revenge in disguise.

When we punish our children, it should be for the sake of instructing them that what they did was wrong and to guide them in the way of what is good, right, and most beneficial to their growth and development. Unfortunately, from looking around in public, I would venture a guess that most parents punish out of anger at a child's behavior and give little instruction before or after. Or they simply don't instruct them at all. But could you imagine a prison guard sitting down and explaining why what an inmate did was wrong and then actually mentoring them to do right? I certainly can't in today's world. It's no wonder criminals remain criminals and children continue to make the same mistakes over and over. Punishment in and of itself is of little effect. Without proper instruction for personal development, punishment seems to have no correlation to a persons likelihood of repeating a crime. According to a 2002 study, of the people who commit crimes such as grand theft auto, selling stolen property, larceny, robbery, and trafficking weapons, between 70 and 77 percent of them were rearrested for the same crime after release! Even more disturbing is that 41 to 51 percent of released rapists, murderers*, and drunk drivers repeated their crimes. That's akin to flipping a coin whether or not their punishment made a difference!

With statistics like these, any sane person can see that punishment is not very effective by itself. But what about the alternatives? Should our government turn the other cheek when someone doesn't pay their taxes? Should your wife turn the other cheek when someone rapes her? I would like to conclude that it doesn't take statistics to show that this won't work. Any sane person as I would define sanity should likely agree. For how long did women not resist men dominating over them and treating them like slaves and property? In fact, this atrocious undeveloped behavior is still occurring in Eastern countries like Afghanistan. And, while women now have rights today in most countries, there is still a rather powerful belief that they are servants of men or, more specifically, that men are the head of the household and women are not. Women's rights only came about by women taking a stand, and in those places where they have not yet taken a stand, they are still subject to torments such as having their noses cut off. Clearly, turning the other cheek is not entirely effective in all situations. Similarly, rewarding evil people would not be very effective either, but it's not too very far from what is necessary. We need to help these people which is indeed a form of good being done to one who commits an evil act. This is not to say that we help them by giving them gas money, but we need to treat them for their issues rather than simply punishing them.

To truly help, we need to view people who commit crimes as troubled. Their brains developed based upon their environment and their genetic makeup--nothing more. If there were something more to a person than genes and environment, then we would find an even distribution of behaviors and beliefs around the world. There wouldn't be cities where crime rates are higher or countries where one particular religion reigns supreme. If you're raised in a drug cartel, you will likely traffic drugs as an adult. If you were raised in a Muslim country and household, you will likely become a Muslim yourself. The culture around a person highly determines how that person will behave. There are obviously outliers, of course, but the statistics show just that: they're not the norm. And, in the end, it's their unique genes and outliers that caused them to be outliers in the first place. If any person had the exact same genes and experiences as any other individual, they would in fact be the same person and behave the same way. Such a thought should cause a lot of sympathy toward someone who makes a bad choice. If not, then apparently your genes do not allow for it or your environment has not taught you to by sympathetic.

Since a person behaves based upon learned experiences, there is hope that we can train them with new experiences to behave in a different manner. Rather than simply punishing them which has no correlating effect, we need to work with them and train them. This is a lot of work and likely a lot of money, but consider the amount of time and money we spend on something that has zero effect beyond getting a person off the street temporarily with a random chance that they'll continue in their crimes when they return. Even if they don't repeat a crime, that's not to say that they've become an outstanding contributor to society. I would venture a guess that most of those not repeating their crimes are still people you would not wish to hang out with since they were never properly instructed on how to behave. If we're not going to take the time to fix people, why do we take the time to punish them? We'd probably have better luck slapping them on the hand and saying "next time it's capital punishment" for anything other than the most extreme crimes and simply killing the rest. We need to either take the time to heal a person or stop all together. There is no point in wasting time and resources beating at the wind. We should either help people or not.

The desire for vengeance is so hardwired in our brain, that we can't help but think that a rapist murderer should be put to death. Think of the families that were hurt and suffer because of such a person. Think of the lives altered forever. It just begs for us to remove the perpetrator from society all together. Clearly, it shows no concern for the criminal which is met with a resounding, "Why should we?" Well I'm glad you asked! We should be concerned for the culprit because he was raised in such an environment as to create him! Clearly the problem is the environment and the culture in which he was raised and not the person himself. That should be quite alarming. For if we remove the person from society, it changes nothing about the culture that raised him. Such people are red flags of society and not merely a monster to be killed. It's a sign that there is something wrong. And if we take the time to understand the root causes of such a person's behavior and learn how to correct it, we could then use such knowledge to modify the culture to prevent further atrocities. We need a much broader picture of where such monsters come from if ever we wish to defeat it. They need to be prevented from existence rather than exterminated from it. If we learn to help them, we learn to change the world.



*homicides specifically

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