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They will all get out, eventually…

November 30, 2011

Our choice: angels-or-demons...

They will all get out, eventually…
I heard the interview once of an inmate at the (then) newly built Pelican Bay state prison in California. He was a young white man about mid twenties or so and had been transferred there due to violent behavior toward staff and fellow inmates at San Quinton. He reported that his treatment and the conditions in his new “home” were harsh, merciless, and according to him malicious. And he was amazingly clear during the interview about one thing. Upon release from prison his one aim in life would be to make society pay for “his” suffering while there in prison no matter the cost to himself. I remember thinking I really hope that neither I nor anyone I knew would ever have the misfortune of crossing this young man’s path after his release and that following his sentence; he would still have many years in which to carry out his revenge.
Unless they die behind bars sometime in the future they (current prison inmates) will all get out. I suppose we as a society and individuals could just hope that somehow “magically” these former inmates and (fellow citizens for the most part) will have learned their “lesson” so to speak and will henceforth be upstanding righteous citizens (like us) regardless the fact that (other than losing a significant portion of their lives to pay a penalty to a society for their crime, (a society in which many if not most of them have little regard for or investment in, hence their crime), for a (statistically) – non-violent crime, they will emerge from prison with fewer opportunities, little to no assets, in addition to extinct or at the very least greatly diminished organic community ties. All of which are the main ingredients for “Complete Failure Pie”, vs. the more commonly known and honored, Norman Rockwell Esq. , American pie.
So I am left to wonder, how is it that anyone can expect these persons will “do better”?
Regardless your views about the nature and roots of crime in general; i.e. personal choice or victim of circumstance, or freewill vs. necessity etc, we as a society are making a/the choice to spend billions of dollars year after year to create and support systems that consistently, empirically, and statistically prove and demonstrate that they don’t work! According to Einstein the definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over and expecting different results, but certainly he was not referring to us. Or was he?
One theory of society suggests that the more invested an individual is in society; the more likely they are to conform to the norms and standards of that society. It’s called “Stakeholder” theory and it makes sense based on the very practical likelihood that the more one has to lose, the less risk(s) one is likely to take. Or to put it another way, if conformity provides individual rewards such as; material goods, role, status, security, and the possibility of maintaining or increasing these, then association and conformity are the normal, natural and rational behavior/choice (given any/all possible choices) which a person is likely to choose, i.e. if society is good to you, you’ll be good to it. Implication: the greater the overall coefficient of reward in a given society in general, the higher the level of conformity and support per societal member.
The data indicates that overall, the more education a person has the less likely they are to commit a crime, thus crime is correlated to a person’s educational level. This correlation seems to hold true even among those who have been convicted of a crime and are serving a sentence. Those who were able to acquire new skills and/or education while in prison had lower rates of recidivism. The more skills and education they acquired while serving their time the better their outcome(s) and thus the better for society in general. Conversely, the fewer skills or education acquired the higher their likelihood of criminal activity, conviction, and return to prison, and the more costly/destructive to society. Which of these eventualities is best for “us”? The answer seems obvious even if to some, a little unpleasant. I think all of us would want those persons leaving prison, who after having paid their debt to society to do well, i.e. become contributing members of civilization, but unfortunately this is so often not the case and “we” can either respond with consternation, judgmental-ism, and rigidity, or we can take Einstein’s advice and quit doing the same thing(s) over and over expecting different results.
It’s like an algorithmic Petri dish; put something in get even more out, whether we like it or not.

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