OK, so someone harms another – steals their property or harms their person. That’s not OK, and cannot go unaddressed. But it’s the next series of steps that gets us into trouble. We go through all this falderal to prove these people are guilty and then throw them into prison, as though that were a solution to the problem.
In truth, we don’t know what to do with them. Crime is a societal issue and cultures have been fighting it for millennia. I doubt if crime can ever be eradicated, but I do believe it can be seriously reduced from the levels we see today. But we have chosen to do the moral equivalent of nothing. We lock convicts up in isolated warehouses – prisons, hoping that somehow, being locked away and “punished”, they will reform. I believe the men who run and administer the criminal justice system also have an abiding faith in the tooth fairy.
Let’s talk about the origins of crime, because our current understanding, or mis-understanding of it underlies our criminal justice system. Stated very simply, crime can be traced to, “Treat a kid badly and he will respond.”
It seems obvious, but the scope of the problem is so broad that it presents a problem for the whole society. Dealing with the origins of crime overwhelms families, politicians, churches and schools. And while each can have a role in preventing and dealing with it, no single social institution reaches broadly enough to encompass the whole problem. And the criminal justice system gets the bitter end, after the good options are largely gone. It is simply the wrong place to introduce meaningful solutions. We need to pay attention to the front end – were the drives that lead to crime are created.
I repeat, “mistreat a child and you’ll pay for it later.” Survey after survey has shown that the entire prison population – 100% – were abused, sexually, physically and emotionally as children. Sexual and physical abuse tends to lead to violent behavior. Emotional abuse tends to produce social deviance – like drug dealers or white collar criminals.
There are exceptions – people who rise above their abuse, but they are just that, exceptions. Nothing could be clearer from the research. The point is, a society doesn’t get a free ride by ignoring what happens to a child. Abuse or neglect him and that abuse will eventually echo back somewhere else in the culture. There is no free lunch. In fact, if we were smart, we’d start paying a lot more attention to the rage and dysfunctional family situations of some of our kids.
Abuse or treat a child violently and his developing brain takes on the perspective that the world is a dangerous and violent place. As a result, he is going to respond! It is simple survival. His inner child, the seat of his emotions is, in most cases, going to react to emotionally challenging situations with violence. His behavior may not be criminal, but when pushed he is likely to become violent.
If he cannot heal his pain, an abused person either internalizes his rage or externalizes it. He may join a gang, become a thief, get into the drug business or in some other way, lash out at the wrongs done to him. He will justify his behavior by the abuse he received as a child and by his denigrated social position. He will want to “get back” at a society/parents he feels wronged him. And, if he belongs to a minority group, he can certainly build a case for racial or ethnic prejudice. His will be the easy way. Compared to honest work, crime is easy money. Mix this with the easy availability of guns with no background checks and you create an explosive situation that is very likely to cost someone, somewhere.
Conversely, if he belongs to the “white elite,” he can compensate for his feelings of inadequacy by creating the appearance of external success. He may internalize his rage by cooking the company books, cheat on environmental regulations, commit insider trading or create a ponzi scheme as a way to get back at dysfunctional parents and a dysfunctional culture. His is not a cry for help. He wants payback, and as I said, he’s going to take the easy way to get it.
The criminal will follow the capitalistic model, after all, crime is simply good business without morality. And with all that money, it’s easy to buy off a politician or a cop who’s lucky to make $25 an hour.
One thing that stands out from the research is how often gang members speak of the gang as “family”. These men and women are looking for something that was not a part of their upbringing, and the gang provides a sense of community, of acceptance, of family and social order; free from the constraints of conventional society. It is not coincidental that gang members refer to each other as “brother” or “sister.”
Returning to the criminal justice system, from any angle except as warehouses, prisons are a complete failure. A prison culture is the absolute worst place to put a human being if one is hoping for any kind of redemption. Prison hardens them, teaches contrary social values and criminal skills to an already aberrant population, supports gang culture and makes heroes out of the very people we are trying the hardest to sanction. Put simply, if you were trying to create the perfect environment to recruit and train criminals, you’d build a prison.
If one were to say publicly, “Let’s create an ideal environment to turn our troubled kids into hardened criminals,” people would be repulsed. But, that is exactly what we do! If you want a clear example of this, the present crop of jihadists we face in the Middle East can be directly traced to the prisons of Saudi Arabia, Lebanon, Yemen, Egypt, Iraq and Afghanistan. That’s were al-Qaeda got its start and where to this day, it does much of its recruiting. It’s the same thing for crime in the U.S.
But what’s really interesting is that no one wants to hear that. The cultural shift it would entail would change Western culture. We would have to go back to the kind of tribal culture where the community guides and nourishes its young people instead of largely ignoring them for turing them over to video games. But we have trouble making even minor cultural changes! As a sub-issue, it also threatens the criminal justice mindset. And it threatens a huge government bureaucracy and a multi-billion dollar private prison industry (that hires former government employees).
The criminal justice problem itself is twofold. First there is a conservative mindset and secondly, a system that actually discourages convicts from straightening themselves out.
The conservative mind operates on the principle that wrongs need to be punished. So the criminal justice system – judges, police, etc. – a bastion of conservative thinking, plus politicians who play the issue for votes, want punishment for crimes, they want the proverbial “eye for an eye.”
Secondly, there is no incentive in the criminal justice system to reward self improvement. In fact, there are disincentives. There are few meaningful programs to help prisoners who want to straighten their lives out and no real incentives for prison administrations to help prisoners straighten out their lives. And if the system does parole an inmate who later commits a crime, there will be hell to pay. Besides, meaningful prisoner help programs add significantly to stressed budgets and an overburdened staff. And, even if there were support for inmate healing, the psychological philosophy that would administer it is woefully inadequate to meet the task.
The prison system struggles under another handicap, this one not of its own making. Most of the big mental hospitals were closed years ago because they were expensive and didn’t work very well. Community based treatment facilities were found to be much more effective. So we closed most of the big hospitals but then never bothered to fund community-based ones.
There were the up-front costs but primarily, politicians were reluctant to confront the inevitable NIMBY’s from the neighborhoods where these facilities were to be located. The locals were ignorant of the realities of mental illness and reacted from fear, FOX News and Hollywood stereotypes of the mentally ill. So, the prisons have been saddled with the responsibility of housing many of these people, adding a considerable burden to an already faltering system. So, we kicked the mental health can down the road (or under freeway underpasses).
OK, so what to do?
The encouraging thing is that the Norwegians have done exactly what I proscribe with their whole criminal justice system – and it works! In addition to that the Spanish have made a total about face in their treatment of drug addicts and offenders, and the results have been spectacular! But don’t repeat that too loudly in America. We don’t want to hear it.
Starting at the back end, the few examples we do have demonstrate that the shamanic healing process can be extremely effective in dealing with the interpersonal pain that drives the criminal mind. It has been demonstrated that we can successfully return many of these people to society. It’s not easy to undue a lifetime of crime, but shamanism addresses the disharmonies within the person that drive their behaviors and in doing so, offers the potential for real healing, not just a temporary behavioral change.
Some criminals have become so hardened and bitter that they are almost impossible to reach and then there are the criminally insane, but these are a small percentage of the prison population.
The vast majority of the people now in prison can be helped, and we should do that, but that is also working the problem from the wrong end. We need to address the early years, where most dysfunctional behaviors are created. We must be willing to provide the assistance our young people and their families need. Not just label them as social “failures” and write them off. And we need to do it from a community perspective. Community (not just governmental) involvement could address the pockets of crime, domestic violence, drug abuse, gang violence, job skills, mental illness and family dysfunctionality. After all, it takes a community to raise a child and a committed community to help a troubled one. And this is one area where an ounce of prevention really is worth a pound of cure.
But we divorce ourselves from our “troubled kids” the same way we divorce our troubled fellow men and women who end up on the short end of the economic stick. We leave our homeless people for the agencies or the street, our sick for the doctors and hospitals, our drug addicts for rehab centers, our hungry for the soup kitchens and our troubled kids for schools or the police. But the courts and the “experts” – who, no matter how well intended, can never replace the role of a concerned community or a parent in a young person’s development. But up until now, we have not been so inclined to get involved. That would require a major cultural shift.
copyright©Blue Lotus Press 2016