By Alan Bean
As a group, criminals are deeply alienated from mainstream society. They are more likely to have mental health issues, to be drug addicted, to be high school dropouts and to have severe learning disabilities than the average person. Moreover, as David Kennedy argues in Don’t Shoot, even when jobs programs are available “not many street guys come forward, not that many can stick with the social-service programs designed to help them, not many can make it even when they really try. They’re heavily compromised in awful ways: They have appalling criminal records, street attitudes that are hard to shake, they’re shocky, they have terrible work habits.”
Are there exceptions? Certainly. Thousands of them. But public policy is driven by the normal case, and that isn’t very encouraging. On the other hand, prison normally makes things worse. Prisons didn’t work as reformatories back in the day when reformation was a serious concern, and they are much worse now that we have decided to warehouse inmates. When ex-offenders return to the free world, they are walled in by restrictions that would force the most capable and motivated person to throw in the towel.
What are the alternatives? Some people need to be in prison. They’re dangerous. But what about the majority of inmates who aren’t violent? Can’t we find a more creative response to street crime than prison and felon disenfranchisement? (more…)