After paying ‘debt,’ then what?

May 9, 2012


I promised Russell I would ask you something.

We met last week in a medium-security correctional facility. There, I spent a couple hours talking with a group of men who are studying for their GEDs. I stressed to them the need for long-term goals, the criticality of education in an era where good-paying, low-skill jobs are going away, and the importance of refusing to allow oneself to be defined by whatever box of race or class society has placed you in. It was toward the end that Russell asked a question whose exact wording I can’t recall, but whose gist was a simple challenge:

What are you going to do to help me when I get out?

He meant me, personally. And he meant you, personally.

Perhaps the question makes you indignant. This would not surprise me. A generation of conservative “reform” on issues of criminal justice has encouraged many of us to believe the only thing we “owe” those who break the law is punishment, followed by punishment, along with punishment and then punishment. It is a seductive line of reasoning. Who among us is not made furious by those men and women who break and enter and steal and damage and violate and maim and kill and thereby rob us of the right to feel secure in our own persons?

Small wonder, then, that harsh, endless punishment has come to seem such an absolute good that politicians of both the right and the left stumble all over themselves to prove they are “tough on crime.” And none of them dare speak a word about rehabilitation, for mortal fear of being declared that hated other thing: “soft” on crime.

Thus, you get mandatory sentencing guidelines that give a man 25 years for stealing a slice of pizza or kicking down a door. Thus, you get Joe Arpaio, the cartoonish Arizona sheriff, feeding his prisoners moldy bologna and rotten fruit and housing them in tents where the temperature reaches 140 degrees. Thus, you get Troy Davis executed despite substantive doubts about his guilt.

Maybe such things leave you feeling righteous and tough. They should actually leave you feeling concerned, if not from moral questions, then from pragmatic ones. America is now the greatest jailer on earth. Prison overcrowding is a growing problem; we literally cannot build facilities fast enough. As CBS News recently reported, the United States has less than 5 percent of the world’s population, but about 25 percent of its prisoners. As CNN recently reported, at 760 prisoners per 100,000 citizens, the U.S. jails its people at a rate seven to 10 times higher than most any other developed nation.

Either Americans are much more crime prone than, say, the Japanese or the British or this “reform” is insane. Worse, in a system of punishment followed by punishment, the insanity does not end with locking up our citizens in obscene numbers. No, after we set them “free,” we deny them re-entry into the mainstream of society with laws barring them from jobs, housing, loans, voting, schooling. How can you fix your life - why even try? - if you are denied the reward that should follow, i.e., the dignity of full citizenship? We close doors of advancement and opportunity to ex-felons, then wonder why so many end up walking back through the door to prison.

Once upon a time, there was an ideal which held that once a person had paid his “debt to society,” he was owed a second chance. That seems to have gone the way of vinyl albums and 69-cent gas. But our new ideal - punishment and then punishment - is short-sighted and unsustainable.

Maybe you find Russell’s question impertinent. Actually, it could not be more pertinent. What are we going to do to help him when he gets out?

It would be good if we had an answer for him. We might not like the answer he finds for himself.

— Leonard Pitts Jr. is a columnist for the Miami Herald. His email is lpitts@miamiherald.com.


Flap Doodle 4 years ago

A miscreant won't get 25 years for pizza theft unless he's got prior convictions establishing him as a career criminal. PittyPat hurts whatever case he may have with such reckless statements designed to inflame his base.

Cant_have_it_both_ways 4 years ago

They wont have to shoot many of them till the rest start to get the idea that many of us are tired of thugs.

jafs 4 years ago

I like this column a lot - I've been saying similar things on another thread.

Punishment is satisfying, on some sort of visceral level, for some of us - but rehabilitation would be better overall for us as a society.

And, for those that say Pitts never talks about personal responsibility, read the first couple of paragraphs of this column, in which he also talks about not being limited/identified by your race, another thing many say Pitts is in favor of.

jafs 4 years ago

It costs more to continually catch and incarcerate people than it would to educate and train them, and rehabilitate them back into society.

just_another_bozo_on_this_bus 4 years ago

"Why? It's too expensive."

I agree, FHNC, and I'm glad that you're on board with my final solution as outlined below.

If the police had the power to off a few miscreant kindergartners, the example would keep their surviving classmates in line for the remainder of their scholastic careers (perhaps they could even learn the fine art of random quotation marks.)

just_another_bozo_on_this_bus 4 years ago

I've never offed anybody-- pre or post birth.

just_another_bozo_on_this_bus 4 years ago

"Who said you were a "Fundamental Liberal"?"

Given your generally propensity for rhetoric diarrhea/ nonsense, I have no idea what you've ever called me, much less what it means, if anything.

I hope the flashbacks get less intense.

just_another_bozo_on_this_bus 4 years ago

Some quotation marks just for you--

"rhetorical diarrhea"

just_another_bozo_on_this_bus 4 years ago

We should have only one punishment for all crimes, death, and it should be administered summarily by the police on the streets. That would nearly eliminate all crime and save a lot of money in the court systems and prisons. Anything less is just namby-pamby liberal coddling of crime and criminals.

Mike Ford 4 years ago

On the subject of crime and conservatives......who did the British Empire exile to Creek and Cherokee lands that eventually became Georgia after Andrew Jackson ignored the pro Cherokee rulings in Worcester and Cherokee rulings in the SCOTUS defying Justice John Marshall? British criminals. The murdering British criminals were sent to Australia in the 1780's. Awesome....Georgia conservatives being the descendants of British criminals.....I wonder if New Gingerich knows this.....

Flap Doodle 4 years ago

We're a long way from the 1780s, bub. Try to stay current. ( .......... from .......... a .......... source ..........)

jaywalker 4 years ago

Looks like someone's desperately trying to change the subject. Why is that, I wonder?

jaywalker 4 years ago

This comment was removed by the site staff for violation of the usage agreement.

jaywalker 4 years ago

There's this topic, then there's your agenda. Too difficult to grasp?

jaywalker 4 years ago

"What are you going to do to help me when I get out?"

Reminds me of the Tampa "mother" who's had 16 kids by the age of 39. Couple years ago she got evicted and had to move to a motel w/ 12 of the kids in one room, then griped on camera that "someone needs to pay for all of these." Couple days ago her and her oldest daughter got arrested for attacking officers arresting her son. What an "Angel."

It's a shame that "rehabilitation" doesn't seem to do much. But there are programs in every prison to earn diplomas and degrees and job training, as well as social re-education and therapy. I'm sure it's difficult w/ a felony or felonies on a record, but businesses have every right to know whom they're hiring and choosing to integrate into their workforce.

jafs 4 years ago

Source that there are those programs in every prison? I'd be surprised if that's true.

If we make it so difficult for those who are convicted to re-enter society, what do you think will happen when they get out?

If felonies only involved violent crimes, I might agree. Unfortunately that's not the case.

jaywalker 4 years ago

According to the Bureau of Justice report “Education and Correctional Populations” of January 2003, over 90% of state prisons and 100% of Federal prisons provide educational programs for the inmates who reside their. To learn more about prison education, follow along in this article.


That was reaaaal hard to find.

"If we make it so difficult for those who are convicted to re-enter society, what do you think will happen when they get out?"

That's incredibly sweet, but do you have an answer to the problem or like Pitts just prefer to bemoan a perceived "injustice" without looking at realities? Fact of the matter is WE don't "make it so difficult", they've made it difficult on themselves.

"If felonies only involved violent crimes, I might agree. Unfortunately that's not the case."

Agree with what? That businesses have the right to know a potential employee's past? So only violent felons records should be made available? Yes, I'm sure that makes sense. No responsible business owner needs to know if someone was a dealer, a thief, a forger, extorter, embezzler, confidence man, etc. etc. etc. There's no way that's ever going to come to pass, so let's stop tilting at windmills.

jafs 4 years ago

Ok. Except that you said "every" prison.

And, you included a variety of other programs in addition to educational ones.

"Job training, social re-education and therapy".

It's not about being "sweet", it's just a reality - if we make it that difficult to re-enter productive society, then they'll almost certainly just wind up back in prison.

Which costs us as a society in addition to those people.

I'm not sure they do - haven't those folks "done their time" - how long do they have to pay for their past crimes? Do those accurately predict the future? Can people not change at all?

If we're going to think along those lines, why not just put them all in jail for life, or kill them, instead of the revolving door of our current system?

jaywalker 4 years ago

"Ok. Except that you said "every" prison."

For the love, jafs, and you wonder why people get ticked with you. Perhaps you'd like to source this gem:

"It costs more to continually catch and incarcerate people than it would to educate and train them, and rehabilitate them back into society."

I'd suggest you don't throw out wholly manufactured statements and then get nit-picky with others.

"if we make it that difficult to re-enter productive society, then they'll almost certainly just wind up back in prison."

Thanks for repeating yourself yet again; still waiting for your solution.

"how long do they have to pay for their past crimes?"

In some ways - forever.

"Do those accurately predict the future?"

For many, yes.

"Can people not change at all?"

Isn't that up to the person?

"If we're going to think along those lines, why not just put them all in jail for life, or kill them, instead of the revolving door of our current system?"

Instead of looking at this from utopian-colored glasses, offer a solution. Otherwise, what do you want? It's on them to walk the straight and narrow. Their personal responsibility was apparently non-existent before they got locked up; time to man up. Reintegrating into society is difficult, but far from impossible.

jafs 4 years ago

I've offered my suggestions - I strongly support a wide variety of social programs designed to help people and families who need it, I strongly support public education.

I'd like to see more rehabilitation in the criminal justice system.

And, I'd like us to make it easier to re-integrate. If that means not providing non-violent criminal records, fine with me.

If people pay forever, then why are juvenile records sealed? We should make all of those available as well, right?

If part of recidivism involves the difficulty we impose, then I can't blame the individual alone for that.

We're coming from different places - you want to establish blame, whereas I'd like to actually improve things.

You can blame them if that's what you want to do, without regard to the social and economic inequities in our system, and the difficulties we impose on those re-entering society.

I'm just not sure what good it does.

If/when I have time, I'll look for the sources that led me to my above statement.

jaywalker 4 years ago

"I've offered my suggestions"

NO, you haven't. And what you go on to list aren't solutions either.

"And, I'd like us to make it easier to re-integrate. If that means not providing non-violent criminal records, fine with me."

That's a pipe dream, as well as not being fair and honest with the law-abiding society.

"We're coming from different places - you want to establish blame, whereas I'd like to actually improve things."

Establish blame?! No, the two different places we're coming from is reality and idealism. Who doesn't want to improve things? Come up w/ a solution then.

jafs 4 years ago

I suggest you look at my conversation with Fossick on PItts' column about race - it lists many suggestions I made to improve these things.

The reality is that whatever we're doing isn't working, so it's in our best interests to try to think "outside the box" and come up with new ideas.

Your version continues to punish people, even after they've served their time - how is that fair?

It seems to me that you like the idea of punishing people more than I do - is that inaccurate?

Given that current systemic recidivism is high, and costs of incarceration are high as well, why not try treatment/rehab outside of prison, which looks to be less expensive and more effective at changing behavior?

For non-violent offenders, and/or those that don't pose a danger of harm to others.

jafs 4 years ago

Ok - I found a couple of interesting sources for you.



The first is written by a former corrections officer.

Both of them point out that the prison environment, by it's nature, is a bad place to try to rehabilitate people - rehabilitation is much more successful if done outside of prison.

This is something that I should have thought of as well - I'm not really suggesting that we keep putting drug and non-violent offenders in jail. I'm suggesting that we rehabilitate them outside of it - as far as I'm concerned, drugs shouldn't be illegal at all, and non-violent offenders shouldn't be in jail.

I'd favor rehabilitation and restitution for those.

So, let's think about costs - I didn't do a search for links about that, but we can do a little thought experiment - it costs about $30K/yr to house 1 inmate.

For the same money, we could hire a social worker who could see 8 people/day - that would be 40 people/wk.

If they helped one person change their lives, and become a productive member of society, that would have cost the same as incarcerating them.

And, if they helped more than that, we'd have saved money.

This assumes a weekly visit, of course - if they saw people at greater intervals, they could see even more of them.

A once/month appointment would mean they could see 160 people.

So, if the rate of help is more than 1/40 or 1/160, we save money over incarceration.

And, that doesn't include the costs of arresting, trying them, etc. it's just the cost of housing them.

jaywalker 4 years ago

"non-violent offenders shouldn't be in jail."

That's a complete joke, right?

"we could hire a social worker who could see 8 people/day - that would be 40 people/wk."

Puhleeze. Are you serious? Do you really think prisons don't already have social workers, therapists, behavioral scientists, priests working with and for convicts?

"A once/month appointment would mean they could see 160 people."

Stop it. You'd need a staff of counselors for each prison, and I highly doubt a once per month hour session is turning most of these people around. Get real.

jafs 4 years ago

It's not a joke at all.

I see no reason whatsoever to put non violent offenders in jail, or for drugs to be illegal at all.

I understand that you have a hard time understanding the idea - that's because I'm not interested in punishing people. If somebody steals my wallet, I want it back. Putting them in jail doesn't get my wallet back.

If they even helped one person, it would cost the same - if they helped more, we'd save money.

Jail makes sense to me, as a way to protect society from violent offenders. Other than that, if you're not interested in punishing people, it serves little to no purpose.

Frightwig 4 years ago

I disagree. I'm glad that people like Bernie Madoff, child pornographers and arsonists are locked away where they can no longer inflict damage or harm innocent people and children.

jafs 4 years ago

I believe in protecting society from dangerous people.

I'd have to think about arsonists, who may not have hurt anybody yet, but who have the obvious potential to do so, but clearly child pornography hurts the children.

To really protect us, we'd need to lock everybody up for life - locking them up for a little bit and then letting them out doesn't really help, especially if they just become smarter criminals in the process.

Bernie Madoff shouldn't be in jail, in my view - people should have been smarter and not fallen for his ridiculous scam, the SEC should have shut him down, and he should be made to get people back their money. That can't possibly happen in jail, where it costs us money to keep him.

jaywalker 4 years ago

"I see no reason whatsoever to put non violent offenders in jail, or for drugs to be illegal at all."

Stop posting or stop dreaming. You must be sleep walking or something, right?

"that's because I'm not interested in punishing people."

Again, that's really sweet. Now wake up.

"If they even helped one person, it would cost the same - if they helped more, we'd save money."



You've stated this twice from your own manufactured hypothetical. I'm sure you're smart, but if it was really that simplistic, with all the people that have actually been involved in the system, ya think someone mighta come up with that by now, right? Huh? "Counselors? Rehabilitation? Why didn't we see that???!!"

jafs 4 years ago

Ok - I'm going to stop responding, given the tone of your comments.

If you want to discuss things with me, you'll have to be a bit more respectful.

I notice, of course, that despite the various insults in your post, you don't respond at all to the content of mine in any substantive way.

jaywalker 4 years ago

Respectful?! Why? Because you choose to beat the same drum, you refuse to engage common sense, you ignore reality?
You have no "content." Just pipe dreams that have no chance whatsoever of being implemented nor effective.

jafs 4 years ago


I've given you enough chances - please stop responding to my posts.

jafs 4 years ago

If you google cost of rehabilitation vs. incarceration, you'll find a lot of good sites.

They seem to suggest that my feeling about this is generally correct, that it costs less to rehabilitate than to punish.

jaywalker 4 years ago

They don't get rehabilitation instead of punishment, jafs. It's in conjunction with punishment. Please don't try to argue it should ONLY be the former.

jafs 4 years ago

That's exactly my argument.

Whatever we're doing now isn't working well.

Check out the links I provided - a former corrections officer points out how the jail environment isn't conducive to rehabilitation.

And, the second link provides a description of rehab programs outside of prison that were much more effective - a combination of the two cut recidivism from about 70% to about 29%.

Of course, when drug offenses are involved, I don't think they should be illegal at all, so recidivism wouldn't be an issue, but the link shows clear evidence that treatment is more effective at reducing drug use than prison.

This all applies to non-violent offenses, in my view - violent offenders should be in jail, but as protection, not punishment. And, I'd like to see us do some research to find out if those folks can be rehabilitated or not.

The ones that can be should be, and the others - perhaps we should just keep them in jail for life, or kill them, if we can't prevent them from being a danger to others.

We could afford that a lot more easily if we weren't incarcerating a bunch of non violent, and drug offenders.

jaywalker 4 years ago

It's a shame you choose to opine on this when it's so obvious you don't have a clue what you're talking about nor a foot based in reality. Bernie Madoff doesn't DESERVE jail time? Nor the habitual burglar who breaks and enters your home and traumatizes your children for life? The swindler who bilked numerous elderly out of their life savings?
I don't know about you, but aside from basic human decency , a solid belief in right and wrong, and a functioning BRAIN - the thing that keeps me out of prison the most is the FEAR of prison. Take away punishment and how many low-lifes crawl out of the woodwork and habitually offend because of your brilliant plan? If they're non-violent nobody gets to know about their record AND no jail time?!!!!? Can you fathom how ridiculous that is? And quit talking about "drug offenders" as if it's a bunch of users in prison instead of a slew of peddlers and gang bangers. You honestly believe ALL drugs should be legal, AND if so there'd be no criminal element involved w/ them? You don't know jack about drugs if that's the case.

just_another_bozo_on_this_bus 4 years ago

"It's a shame you choose to opine on this when it's so obvious you don't have a clue what you're talking about nor a foot based in reality."

Oh great one, thank you for providing this amazing elucidation of all that is true and real.

jaywalker 4 years ago

And thank you for being nothing more than a troll, bozo. If you'd actually care to weigh in instead of being you.......never mind. I understand.

jafs 4 years ago

And, yet, recidivism rates are high and crime rates are high - there's little evidence that punishment works as a deterrent.

Yes, I believe that about drugs - just as happened with Prohibition and the end of it, criminal enterprises spring up when things are illegal, and then there's no need for them once they're legal.

If drugs were legal, we'd see the same sort of shift - instead of bangers, etc. we'd have legal producers, stores, etc.

I'm going to stop responding now - I get that you're upset with my ideas - that's your right. But I don't have to talk with you if you can't be more respectful.

jaywalker 4 years ago

You don't have ANY ideas, jafs! What you have is an exceptionally naive view of criminals and criminality, and absolutely no clue about the hazards of drugs.

But please, do run away. I've been urging you to stop for your own sake.

jafs 4 years ago


You forced me to it - please stop responding to my posts.

Sorry it came to this, but I gave you numerous chances to change your attitude and posting behavior.

jaywalker 4 years ago

I'll remind you again: YOU responded to my posts; that's how this started. When you get back to reality, get back to me.

Cai 4 years ago


how, exactly, can you say that jafs "[doesn't] have ANY ideas ... !" when jafs has posted several ideas and links to support that he's not the only one with these ideas?

They may be a pipe dream. They may be wrong. They may not be based in fact, and there was, at one point, a REALLY interesting debate. Then you were the one that flew off the handle.

kansanbygrace 4 years ago

Jaywalker, you express ignorance of the last 35 years of reality. Rehabilitation programs advanced through the seventies, recidivism declined, employability increased, cost per prisoner was much, much less than today.
The prison industries made paint and soap, upholstered furniture for state institutions, grew their own food. Cost was less, effect better, the community was much safer. People from Mexico came and learned our programs, drastically altered the Mexican prison system (It had been horrible) and have benefited tremendously since. The money "saved" by withdrawing those programs here has been the most expensive waste of money, time, and human resource that I can think of.
Don't ask for a single "citation" It takes a little knowledge, and some study, to get at the reality.
Do your homework before you repeat your junk.

jaywalker 4 years ago

"Don't ask for a single "citation" It takes a little knowledge, and some study, to get at the reality. "

Let me fix that for ya: "Don't ask for a single citation 'cuz I don't have one. It only takes a little imagination and ignorance to post this with the appropriate amount of arrogance. " You're welcome.

But of course you're right. These people would be able to re-enter society seamlessly if only we taught them how to make paint and soap, become furniture upholsterers or farmers. And I hear that Mexican prisons are wonderful places.

"The money "saved" by withdrawing those programs here has been the most expensive waste of money, time, and human resource that I can think of."

Obviously thinking isn't a strong suit.

"Do your homework before you repeat your junk."

I'd love for you to point out exactly the "junk" you're referring to.

jafs 4 years ago

I thought you said we had job training programs - is that not true?

jaywalker 4 years ago

You're obviously sitting in front of a computer with internet capability. Use it.

jafs 4 years ago


So much for our conversation.

jafs 4 years ago

No lazier than you - you can search the topics I mentioned as well.

jaywalker 4 years ago

Haaaayuk.... ya think? Difference is I did search before asking you for citation, which it ends up you couldn't do specifically.

just_another_bozo_on_this_bus 4 years ago

"Difference is I did search before asking you for citation, "

But copying and pasting any relevant links is soooo difficult, right?

jaywalker 4 years ago

Nope, sure isn't. Thanks for backing me up, bozo.

jafs 4 years ago

Were you unable to find the various references I mentioned?

I suppose you'd like for me to provide links for you, now, despite your obnoxious attitude?

A quick google search provides numerous references, showing that the costs of treatment are lower than the costs of incarceration.

jafs 4 years ago

That was my impression as well.

I'd be interested in any sources, though, to confirm it.

kansanbygrace 4 years ago

I'll rejoin here when I have a little time--do respect your position, but a few years work in the field has given me a different take on the issue. Back about 5:30.

jafs 4 years ago

I'm the one that agrees with you, not jaywalker.

heygary 4 years ago

.. then labor unions stepped in and effectively put a halt to the practice.

Bob Harvey 4 years ago

A difficult question to be sure. I believe the answer still lies in the education and training before the individual is sent to prison. Recidivism is at ridiculously high rates for the very reasons Mr. Pitts describes, however, at times I believe the education and training comes too late in life for some. If we could stress it earlier perhaps we could keep them out of prison in the first place. What saddens me is how little regard a number of citizens have for the value of education early in life and hard work later in it.

jafs 4 years ago

Early intervention and education is probably the most effective thing we could do.

But, I'd be very surprised if later education and interventions didn't help as well, if they're well designed and implemented.

Bob Harvey 4 years ago

Oh I agree. I didn't mean to imply that later in life education had no value. Just that so much is stacked against the person at that time it would be much more difficult. Sadly so much of the informal education an inmate receives while incarcarated is on how to be a better criminal.

tbaker 4 years ago

We should decriminalize drugs. A large percentage of those in prison are there for non-violent drug crimes, and a disproportionate number of them are minorities. Just like the War on Poverty, the so-called War on Drugs is an abject failure by any rational measure as well. Instead of a drugs being viewed as a criminal problem, they should be considered a healthcare issue. A dollar spent on treatment and rehab goes much farther than a dollar spent on more jail cells. This approach just doesn't work, and there is decades of data to prove it. Trement and rehab for drug offenders would be a much better solution for our society. Far fewer lives would be ruined, and it would cost the taxpayers a lot less.

Bob Harvey 4 years ago

In spite of my feeling like we are giving up you are correct. Drugs have cost this country so much in both lives and treasure. Perhaps it is time to do as you suggest.

tbaker 4 years ago

I'm saying a disproportionatly high percentage of people in prison for drug crimes are minorities. For example, 50% of people in prison for a drug offense are black, which are only 13% of the US population. This results in1 in 15 African-American children having a parent in prison, compared to 1 in 111 white children. In some areas, a large majority of African-American men – 55 percent in Chicago - for example, are labeled felons for life, and, as a result, may be prevented from voting and accessing public housing, student loans and other public assistance. (Source: http://drugwarfacts.org/cms/?q=node/64)

This contributes to generational poverty and generates 2nd and 3rd order demands on other public assistence resources on top of the costs already in law enforcement, the courts and prison system.

jafs 4 years ago

Nice - a rare case of complete agreement between us.

I'll enjoy it for a little while :-)

jhawkinsf 4 years ago

Whatever one thinks we "owe" someone who is leaving the criminal justice system, it is something less than we owe someone who has chosen not to victimize society with illegal activities. After we've paid our "debt" to the non law breakers, then the lawbreakers can ask for a part of what's left.

jafs 4 years ago

We don't "owe" them anything, in my view.

It's just a matter of what will work better, and cost less, to reduce crime.

What's our "debt" to law abiding citizens?

jhawkinsf 4 years ago

Our debt to law abiding citizens is nothing. What we owe law breakers is just less than that. Debt is not to be confused with entitlements. Law abiding citizens are entitled to all the protections the Constitution provides as well as what all our laws give to us. And those who have left the criminal justice system are free to sue for all the same protections. But they are not entitled to anything more than anyone else.

jafs 4 years ago

I never said we "owed" anybody anything, so we agree there.

But, in fact, convicted felons are denied those same protections and rights - they can't own a gun, often can't vote, etc.

As I said, it's just about what would work better to reduce crime and cost less, from my perspective.

jhawkinsf 4 years ago

The article used the word "owe" and put them in parenthesis, so I was following that lead. It might be cheaper in the long run if we gave each departing criminal a million bucks when they're released from prison. But just because it's cheaper, I'd rather not subscribe to that formula. BTW - Why don't you commit crimes? For me, part of the reason is that I view prison as a terrible place to spend my time. However, I'm convinced that to some, prison isn't so bad. Because of that, going to prison has lost it's deterrent factor. Much like the Oklahoma killer who was put to death after 37 years on death row. The fear of death had lost it's deterrent factor. I'd be happier with prisons that had healthy food and no televisions. I'd be happier with prisons that had extensive libraries and no basketball courts. And I'd be happier with prisons with GED classes and no weight rooms. And if limiting time in the yard was cost effective, then keep them in their cells longer. And if there comes a time when funding decisions must be made where we're cutting libraries in prisons or cutting libraries in schools, well felons lose out.

jafs 4 years ago

Why people commit crimes, and what to do about it, is a very complex question, I'd say.

We'd have to look at social, economic, and personal psychology to figure it out, it seems to me.

If you weren't afraid you'd go to jail, would you steal?

In behavioral psychology, for negative reinforcement to be effective, it has to be immediate (and pretty consisent). Our criminal justice system doesn't provide immediate consequences or consistent ones - that's probably part of why it's not effective at changing behavior.

My argument isn't that we should help criminals out of some sort of altruism - it's that it would be more effective at reducing crime, and cheaper to do so. It's in our own best interests, if that's what we want.

But many people are stuck on punishment - there's some sort of visceral satisfaction there, I guess, despite the fact that it's counterproductive in terms of reducing crime.

If I had to choose between putting somebody in jail for stealing my wallet, which entails spending more tax dollars, doesn't get my wallet back, and just makes that criminal smarter and more likely to re-offend - or, paying fewer tax dollars, changing their behavior so that they're less likely to re-offend, and getting my wallet back, the choice is clear to me.

I'd give up the visceral satisfaction of punishment in favor of the other scenario.

But, clearly, I may be in the minority in this country.

Now, there may be an argument that the fear of punishment acts as some sort of deterrent - but I think that studies have shown that to be a rather small factor. Most criminals just aren't thinking about possible future outcomes when they commit crimes, or they're not thinking about them clearly.

There was one I recall, that suggested that certainty of punishment was more of a deterrent than harshness as far as sentencing. But I don't see any way to ensure more certainty of outcomes in our criminal justice system, at least without removing the various checks and balances on the power of the state, and cutting into constitutional protections.

jhawkinsf 4 years ago

One of these days, Jafs, you're going to have to explain how you would budget for all these things. You're always wanting to expand this and expand that, most of which is good. It's just not what we can afford. Or maybe you'll be like Bozo who suggested a while back we cut defense spending by 80%. Not a bad idea, just ain't gonna happen. Me, I'd eliminate waste and fraud, also not gonna happen. If just saying something could make it so, we could solve all our problems immediately. But in the real world, if we catch the guy who stole you're wallet and forced him to give it back and then gave him skills necessary so he wouldn't have to commit additional crimes, we'd have to cut funding to some other more worthy program and the thief would likely steal again. Sorry if that sounds cynical, but human nature is what it is.

Carol Bowen 4 years ago

Troubled youth sometimes think that ending up in jail or dead is their fate. Many of their role models have ended up in jail. That's life as they know it. We can either let the cycle continue or do something about it.

My first question is how many people really need jail time? A while ago, it was politically correct to increase law enforcement. Well, we did that. Now, what?

P.S. I totally agree with Leonard Pitts.

verity 4 years ago

You think privatized jails might have something to do with this?

jaywalker 4 years ago

jafs: "We don't "owe" them anything, in my view."

Excuse me? According to you, we owe them the right of a clean slate, we owe them the right to not pay for their crimes, we "owe" them more taxpayer dollars to "rehabilitate" them in order to make them viable members of society - - - when parents, teachers, and God given common sense couldn't do such for at least 18 years.

Honk. Thanks for playing.

jafs 4 years ago

Not at all.

The reason to change our system is so that it works better, and costs less money.

I don't think we "owe" them anything.

If you continue in this vein, I won't talk to you anymore, and ask you to stop responding to my posts - it's up to you.

jaywalker 4 years ago

"I don't think we "owe" them anything."

That's a lie. I've already proved such.

"If you continue in this vein, I won't talk to you anymore, and ask you to stop responding to my posts - it's up to you."

'Scuse me, but it was you who responded to my post.

jafs 4 years ago

Again, not true.

I'm going to stop discussing this with you - it's pointless if you can't read and understand my points, and are degenerating into personal insults.

jaywalker 4 years ago

jafs: "I'd have to think about arsonists (serving jail time), who may not have hurt anybody yet,"

Spoken like someone who's never owned anything of value nor cares about their possessions. Or has a clue.
I can hear you now, " Someone burned down my business? So now I have nothing and my employees are out of work? Well, I certainly hope he gets some good counseling, poor fellow. What?! He's done this more than once?! We must get him a better counselor!! Where's my check book? Oh. It was in my office that's now in ashes."

jafs: "Bernie Madoff shouldn't be in jail, in my view - people should have been smarter and not fallen for his ridiculous scam, the SEC should have shut him down, and he should be made to get people back their money. That can't possibly happen in jail, where it costs us money to keep him."

At the risk of being threatened with the possibility of your not conversing with me any longer, that might be the most ignorant thing you've ever posted. Madoff pled guilty to 12 federal crimes and admitted in court to operating the largest Ponzi scheme in history. He got something like150 years in prison, and his "restitution" was in the hundreds of BILLIONS. He bilked universities and charities, and at least 4 people committed suicide because of his confidence game.

But in your "view", he shouldn't be in jail 'cuz the thousands he defrauded were idiots (all evidence to the contrary) and he could be out and working up that $170 billion?

You should seriously consider not posting on this subject any longer.

jafs 4 years ago

I have many valued possessions - if they were stolen or burned, I'd want to be compensated for that.

You seem to miss the point over and over again - putting somebody in jail at taxpayer expense does nothing to compensate victims of crime.

Yes, he operated a Ponzi scheme - and, yes, anybody that believed he could offer them an extraordinarily consistent 12% annual return with low risk was an idiot. Con men often say they can't con people unless they're stupid and/or greedy. If fewer people had fallen for it, fewer people would have lost money. In addition, the SEC was notified about him numerous times, and failed to act. If they had acted correctly, he wouldn't have been able to bilk so many people. Then, the costs of restitution would have been lower, and we might have been able to get the money back. But we can't get any money back by putting him in jail at taxpayer expense.

I have to think about the suicides - that might change my view a bit.

But, are you really unable to see how utterly useless it is to put people in jail, if what we're interested in is changing their behavior and compensating victims?

We put them in jail, let them out, and then they re-offend, so we put them back in jail, etc. Meanwhile, victims aren't compensated, and we're spending a lot of money on the revolving door of the criminal justice system.

In fact, often criminals just learn how to be better criminals in jail, so we're really making the problem worse.

jaywalker 4 years ago

So for you, there's no such thing as personal responsibility. Rob people blind, it's the victim's fault. Rob people blind, and someone else should have stopped it sooner. It's society's fault that crooks re-offend.

Yes, I'm sure you're right. All we need to do is educate and rehabilitate. With the fear of jail time out of the picture, all these criminals would straighten up and fly right if only we counseled them more or better.

There's naive and then there's you on this subject, jafs. And only the biggest fool would think there's any way Madoff would be able to come up w/ $170 billion, or that any of these criminals would ever be able to make up the large sums they'd owe.

Don Quixote had a better grip on reality.

jafs 4 years ago


Why bother continuing this discussion? You're clearly too upset to understand what I'm saying.

Take some deep breaths, have a beer, etc.

I'll be glad to continue the discussion some other time, when you're calmer, and can discuss it without resorting to personal insults, if that's possible for you.

Cai 4 years ago

Jafs, In reading all of this, I do have one serious question for you. (and... like.. a scholarly one, not nitpicking through your ideas before declaring you don't have any?)

What do we do with the small percentage of people who, for whatever reason, can't be rehabilitated? These are people that either...chose to go to jail because it was easier than working, or are truly psychologically deficient in empathy and social construct (the technical term is psychopathy, though that has a lot of common connotations that I don't intend)?

No major violent crimes yet - and in the former case, probably never. Even in the latter, the violent crimes would only happen if they were of benefit (rather than a crime of passion by someone who might like... need anger management help). Further, for this discussion, I'd like to assume a perfect diagnoses type thing - we'd be able to ..through .. say... wizardry? know ahead of time who was able to be rehabilitated or not. Course, then the next question is, what if we can't tell (since y'know... we can't).

They're a small percentage, but they do exist, and I feel like the people on your side of the debate always seem to ignore them completely. I also feel like they tend to ignore people that need consistent supervision. If they have it (like they're on parole, and get a paying job and someone helps with bills and stuffs) they stay on the straight & narrow, but if they don't, they end up in trouble. Spend beyodn what they have, don't keep a job, miss a bill, then two, then a rent, and then the crime of theft/burglary/armed robbery is just because they dug another hole.


jafs 4 years ago

How does putting somebody in jail create restitution?

Retribution is over-rated, in my view - it may feel good for a little bit, but if you look at the bigger picture, it doesn't accomplish much. Especially if the result is just more crime, and smarter criminals.

We pay for jails, etc. So we're paying for putting them in jail, right?

If we could pay less, and change their behavior more effectively, reducing crime, creating the possibility of restitution (either with the money we're saving - a victims compensation fund - or because they then get a job, and we garner some of their wages), why not do that instead?

seriouscat 4 years ago

It's not about effectiveness. That would negatively affect shareholder ROI. Wealth creators creating wealth is all that matters.

seriouscat 4 years ago

We have no choice but to continue cycling people through the prison system guys! Shareholders of stock in the Corrections Corporation of America expect a good ROI!


seriouscat 4 years ago

The U.S. Department of Justice found in a 2008 report that a CCA-operated facility had the highest rate of sexual victimization among all the jails surveyed.

seriouscat 4 years ago

Prisons used to be a non-profit business... The CCA and similar corporations actually lobby Congress for stiffer sentencing laws so they can lock more people up and make more money. That's why America has the world's largest prison population -- because actually rehabilitating people would have a negative impact on the bottom line.

CCA spent $14.8 million lobbying the Department of Homeland Security, U.S. Immigrations and Customs Enforcement (ICE), the Office of Management and Budget, the Bureau of Prisons, both houses of Congress, and others between 2003 and 2010.

heygary 4 years ago

America has the world's largest prison population ...

Because in many other countries the penalties are so severe they actually deter crime! Lock then up for drug distribution? No ... execute them. Lock them up for thief? nope ... cut off their hand.

DrQuack 4 years ago

Why does JAFS think inmates are treatable or are amenable to rehabilitation? Why does JAFS think they wish to change?

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