system, stimulus and response are so far apart that negative reinforcement
Jim Parker '65
Getting tough on crime often translates to longer prison sentences. Longer sentences create more crowding and fewer resources for programs. I get very frustrated when I receive letters from prisoners with substance abuse problems who have been in the system for a year and still have not been able to get enrolled into a counseling or treatment program.
Steve Heimann '77
It is quite rare that a first-time offender rapes, kidnaps, or murders. They generally commit a slew of lesser offenses before graduating to more violent crime.
Unfortunately, our system
does not seem to do much with offenders until they graduate to more violent
Mike McCarty '90
Law & Order in America:
Question 2: Are there criminal treatment strategies that work?
Probation officers are in a triage situation: we no longer have the choice of who we supervise or of treatment strategies.
In general, we prefer to supervise young first- and second-offenders, whom we have some hope of reforming.
One thing that is seldom mentioned is that a large percentage of defendants who are summarily entrusted to our control and supervision are severely character-disordered or sociopathic individuals, for whom there exists no known "treatment" that has the slightest chance of being effective. Community mental health clinics only want clients who are self-motivated, non-violent, and not drug or alcohol addicted. Guess who gets the rest? This feels very much like "shoveling sand against the tide," and is very demoralizing to us.
If we had our "druthers," we'd like to pick and choose our own probationers, have many more probation officers, and have smaller caseloads, so we could see people once a week for urine testing, Alcoholics Anonymous/Narcotics Anonymous signature-cards, job search forms, and home visits.
For those who are denied probation as bad risks, we would like to see shorter sentences, served in a much harsher environmentisolation with no TVbut imposed and served without delay. In today's system, stimulus and response are so far apart that negative reinforcement doesn't occur. Serious substance abusers need to be in custody 90 days to detox completely, then be forced to choose between continuing custody and a lengthy residential treatment program.
Violent offenders need to be contacted frequently by our Gang Task Forces and specialized supervising probation officers who have time to do regular search-and-seizure home visits, etc. I believe we have made a difference with this approach.
Jim Parker '65
Statistics show that there is a significant increase in the number of males incarcerated beginning at age 17.
This high rate of incarceration takes a significant downturn at age 27. So if we can keep our young men "on the straight and narrow" until age 27, we have a significant decreased statistical possibility of criminal activity which will result in incarceration.
Among my greatest frustrations is watching what happens with an individual who is sentenced to prison. Many are held in jail awaiting transport to prison because the prisons are overcrowded. Once an individual gets to prison, often they do not receive treatment in a timely fashion. Our prisons are overcrowded in large part because people want "the system" to get tough on crime. Getting tough on crime often translates to longer prison sentences. Longer sentences create more crowding and fewer resources for programs while in prison. I get very frustrated when I receive letters from prisoners, for example, with substance abuse problems, who have been in the system for a year or two and still have not been able to get enrolled into a counseling or treatment program.
One of the tools that is no longer available as a viable alternative to incarceration is the option of military service. It was a common practice for young men who were presenting "difficulties" within a community to come into court with their defense lawyer on one side and a military recruiting officer on the other. The recruiter would accept the young man if the charges were dropped and the prosecutor would drop the charges if the young man would enlist in the military. The military would "rehabilitate" these young men instead of the criminal justice system.
As result of this success, non-military boot camps have been developed and used for young offenders. But studies show that these have been a failure for the most part. In the real military, after boot camp, the youth had a job to perform for which he was paid. There was also consistent discipline in his environment. Today's boot camps turn out disciplined young men who go back to environments where discipline is lacking. Also, the job markets in the larger cities has not improved significantly. The few boot camps which work have aftercare programs and insure that the youth is given a good job upon completion of the initial boot camp phase.
I look at Canada's prison system and think that we could learn a great deal from it. There, an individual is placed in a traditional cell for a couple of months upon arrival. If he maintains a clean conduct record, he will then be allowed to work at a job within the prison for which he will be paid wages. When he saves some money, he will be able to rent an apartment within the prison. He will go to a prison grocery store. He will be responsible for his own meals, for getting himself up to go to work on time, for budgeting his monthly expenses. In the evenings, he will have the opportunity to attend classes.
This model is one of rehabilitationnot just punishment. We need to move toward it.
Steve Heimann '77 Judge
I believe that incarceration is an important component, but it should be one of several avenues for dealing with crime.
I guess I would align myself with the approach that New York City has undertaken in recent years. Target first offenders when punishment and rehabilitation is most effective. First offenders in domestic violence (misdemeanor offenses) typically respond well to probation with mandated substance abuse and counseling, particularly if the probation officers monitor and violate the offender if the terms of probation are not kept and judges hold the offenders accountable.
I do believe that incarceration is the key in some cases. I have former offenders serving lengthy sentences for domestic violence related homicides, attempted homicides, sexual assaults, and stalking. These are individuals that will not be rehabilitated and must be isolated from society. The criminal justice system must offer solutions to many of these crimes before the offender becomes more violent. It is quite rare that a first-time offender rapes, kidnaps or murders. They generally commit a slew of lesser offenses before graduating to more violent crime.
Unfortunately, our system does not seem to do much with offenders until
they graduate to more violent crimes.
Mike McCarty '90