Excerpts from the radio news:
…shooting of a jogger early this morning on a secluded beach in an apparently random attack…
…rioting following services which were held in memory of a man who died in police custody…
…who were apparently planning to fly to Syria and join the army of the Islamic State…
…make an arrest in killing of six, including baby…
Some things that happen are so terrible that you have to ask yourself, not just “Why?”, but “How could a human being even do that?” The statistics on violent crime in this country show a steady decline, but on the other hand, at any given point in time, nearly 3% of the adult population is either in jail, in prison, or under some form of correctional control (probation or parole). Because of the gender gap in prosecution and sentencing, that works out to one in eighteen adult males.
Statistics from the Department of Justice show that this is largely due to the “Tough On Crime” laws that have become ever more popular since the 1980s. Mandatory minimum sentencing, “Three Strikes” laws, and increased penalties for many nonviolent crimes — including, but not at all limited to, drug possession — are keeping people in jail for longer, and the increased illegalization of nonviolent crimes — largely but not entirely related to the “War On Drugs” — has increased related arrests.
By age 23, 49% of black males, 44% of Hispanic males, and 38% of white males have been arrested, according to a study published in the journal Crime and Delinquency. Many of these arrests take place while the subjects were juveniles, and then once they gain their majority, they are arrested again and this time sentenced as adults.
Once arrested, many people find it difficult to avoid getting re-arrested. Finding employment as an ex-convict is extremely difficult, and many people turn back to crime in order to earn enough money to live. It is estimated that two thirds of all people released re-offend, and the majority of these are caught. It has even been speculated that, since the rates of incarceration are so high that the social stigma associated with it has reduced dramatically, harsher laws can actually encourage criminal activity in certain portions of society.
It should be easy to conclude from all this that passing harsher laws doesn’t reduce crime. All it accomplishes is to get more and more people arrested and sent to prison, which ends up being a training ground that makes them better criminals once they get out. But that’s all our system is designed to do.
You know what does prevent crime? Reducing poverty can help, but alone it’s not enough. We’ve got to rebuild communities where they’ve fallen apart due to decades of neglect and abuse. A recent Brookings study collated the results of effective programs, and showed clearly that repairing homes, cleaning up vacant lots, building parks, and establishing neighborhood programs designed to bring people together were all extremely effective ways to reduce crime, and as a consequence, violence.
The next time you run across one of these headlines, don’t just stop and shudder and then put it out of your mind. Embrace that traumatic feeling, and invest that energy into community outreach. Maybe organize a communal meal with your neighbors; perhaps print off posters for a day to clean up a local park, or to build a rain garden. If you’re religious, go to church; if not, maybe go anyway — just to connect with people. Stop voting for Tough On Crime politicians. We’ve already got far too many former prosecutors in Congress as it is.
And, most of all, adopt the following two words as your personal motto:
You’d be amazed what a difference that can make.
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