Societal benefits of moving the criminal justice system from retribution to rehabilitation
By Alex Stanton, Staff Writer
Very few groups of people are more marginalized and challenged than convicted criminals. On top of mentally reintegrating themselves into life on the outside, they may have to deal with stigma, possible probation, and the scarlet letter known as a criminal record visible to anyone who needs the information, namely, employers.
Business owners have the right to pick and choose whomever they feel would be an asset to their company, and nothing sets off internal alarm bells like a former cat burglar behind the point-of-sale system. Sex offenders have it twice as bad. Although it is most definitely in the interest of the public, there’s no denying that a (generally) lifetime brand as a sexual predator is harsh on any human being, particularly on the drunk guy who took a piss behind a dumpster and ended up being categorized with Jerry Sandusky and Ted Bundy.
One of the things that has been proven time and time again over the course of history is that it is incredibly easy to dehumanize. Whether it’s due to war, bigotry, or, in this case, social expectations, people dehumanize those they consider undesirable because it makes it easier to treat them like shit. I think there are too many glaring issues with the criminal justice system in the first world to name, but for me it boils down to one line: above all, rehabilitation of offenders should be the top priority.
There are all kinds of issues that make that idea really unrealistic to just pull off. First and foremost, there are simply some people who are so sick they can’t be rehabilitated. Serial killers, for example, generally have something very wrong with their brain that stifles empathy or causes a deep pathological need to kill. Second of all, it’s all too natural to want to see serious offenders be punished and suffer for their transgressions.
Basically, all this is what makes my sentiment nigh impossible to put into practice; it’s human nature. But realistically, would it not be best for society as a whole if we focused on taking negative experiences and creating better functioning citizens? No matter what, human beings deserve to live in a better place than your average prison. Most of them suffer from third-world conditions, horrible treatment of prisoners, as well as prison culture—an atmosphere that promotes gang life, rape, and human trafficking, among other things. This prison culture is, by all accounts, nearly impossible for authorities to counter with the current conditions.
There isn’t a short-term solution outside of fairy tales, but as each generation becomes more socially progressive than the last, I can see us putting our heads together and coming up with a solution that, as of now, people are hard-pressed to care about. I’m not condoning leniency on the real sickos out there, but if someone has the potential to be treated, we owe it to that individual to try. Even if they’re on their second, third, or fourth chance, they’re still human and should be treated with dignity.
You can argue all day that the system makes life horrible for those who deserve it, that they deserve a tortuously lengthy sentence or capital punishment for what they did. I like to think we’re better, bigger people for treating criminals like humans. We don’t need to stoop to their level and harm other people to satisfy a primal desire for justice.
An eye for an eye makes the whole world blind.