Wooster Friends Meeting
Welcome to the Wooster, Ohio Quaker Meeting
This letter to the editor was written by a member of Wooster Friends and was published in the Wooster Daily Record on Feb. 14, 2014
To the Editor:
A recent editorial from the Los Angeles Times (“Sentencing reform”), reprinted here on February 8, makes a good argument for rethinking our approach to criminal justice.
It’s time for us to stop looking at crime from an “us versus them” perspective – “us” being good, law-abiding citizens, and “them” being evil, alien criminals. It’s time we considered a scenario that focuses on “all of us.”
It’s in the interest of all of us to have an educated, responsible citizenry. People who obey the laws and vote. People with basic literacy. People with skills to trade in the economic marketplace. People who feel they have a stake in protecting children (yours, mine, and their own) and in keeping our streets safe.
Crime doesn’t come out of nowhere. No baby is a born criminal. No child wants to be a pariah, alienated from family and society. Criminals are not born but made, by the interaction of complex factors that we only partially understand.
In this scenario, it is simply impossible to address crime effectively through the criminal justice system alone. We need to put more of our resources into prevention, emphasizing education, socialization, and health (including mental health). And when crime does occur, we need to shift our focus from retribution and revenge to restoration and restitution.
The United States currently has the highest prison incarceration rate in the world. Locking individuals up for decades is a huge economic burden. It costs tens of thousands of dollars a year to incarcerate one prisoner. How much more good could that money do if more of it were invested in prevention and rehabilitation?
If and when prisoners are released, our social networks do not consistently do a good job of integrating them back into society. As a result, we see high rates of recidivism and endless cycles of crime, concentrated primarily among minority and disadvantaged communities.
So it’s not soft-hearted, or soft-headed, to argue that we need a new approach. Alternatives to imprisonment, including closely-supervised and supportive release programs, should be expanded. We need to think creatively about finding ways for offenders to make restitution to victims, their families, and the community. So that they can rejoin “us.”
We cannot wait for crimes to occur, and then become a vengeful “us” determined only to punish an alien “them.” It’s irrational, immoral – and it doesn’t work.
Sharon L. Shelly