As I walk to work in the morning I often see people cleaning the sidewalks wearing Baltimore City Correctional Facility Community Service jackets. I wonder how it must feel to be that person. You have committed a crime, and you are receiving a punishment. That seems fair, especially when it is a “useful” punishment and not just punishment for the sake of punishment. But how must it feel to be wearing that jacket? To be publicly called out, shamed, for ones behavior.
Shaming has become a new fad. Parents shame their children, making them stand on street corners with signs displaying their wrong-doing. The public has responded as it usually does: unanimously uncertain. Some people think it’s great and others think it’s tantamount to child abuse. Personally, I don’t like “shaming” as a concept. I find it degrading, and if it were me being shamed in this situation it would make me angry and even less likely to follow the rules. I do, however, understand that fear of shaming is a deterrent for some people.
These two things lead me to my main question: what is punishment for? When I talk about punishment I am now talking about legal punishment: jail time. I understand that at the extremes we send people to jail to protect society. The serial killers who say they will never stop killing for example are the sorts of people who should be in jail if we are acting in the best interests of society.
But what about everyone else? Those on theft charges, drug charges, even violence charges. What is the point of prison? As far as I can tell, it does little to help those who committed crimes, and only aids in destroying their lives further, making it more and more difficult for them to follow the law.
Think about it. Imagine that you committed a crime – let’s say you sold hard drugs when you were 18. You are sentenced to 10 years in jail. You only serve 5 of them, due to good behavior. You come out of jail and want to turn your life around. The drugs thing was a childish idiocy, an idea of making easy money quick with no understanding of the consequences. Alright, now you’re 23 with no real job history, no education above high school and a felony with jail time on your record. Who’s going to hire you now? Not only is this all stacked against you, but you are now 5 years behind on technology. You don’t know how to use the newest versions of Microsoft or Apple, and you may not even be able to work the new printers.
Remember that you also have no credit history and no money. Where are you going to live? How are you going to get food?
After a couple of weeks with no where to stay, rejection from everywhere you turn, and no food what options are left? Well, you know crime works. You know you can make money selling drugs.
People who are released from prison have very little support. It is damn near impossible to get a job with a criminal record and a long chunk of time not working. It is impossible to get housing without money or credit. Many services available to the general public aren’t available to felons. We are breeding a group of people who have no other options but crime.
So, what do we do to stop this? Most people will agree that we can’t just remove punishments because then more people will commit crime, there will be no deterrent. Are we giving people jail sentences as deterrents? Obviously not, they have already committed the crimes. If prison were a deterrent we would not have most of the crime we do.
I don’t have an answer. These are just my thoughts on the matter. I do think that we should be less quick to judge a person with a criminal background, and we should maybe set up a system to allow people to apply for jobs without disclosing a criminal background unless it was relevant to the job. Even so, we need to think about how we are behaving and how it contradicts what we want. We want people to change. We want to believe that if we send the person with multiple DUIs to jail that he will change; however, we never give him a chance to show he has.
How can we expect people to change if we keep telling them that they are their past?