General Question

troubleinharlem's avatar

How can we know exactly when criminals are suitable to fit into regular society?

Asked by troubleinharlem (7978points) October 20th, 2010

I was thinking about it, and when should criminals be released into society? Is there a time limit? I know that there’s a certain time limit on releasing criminals, but what is it? And how do we know when they are able to be released? I know that all criminals are not the same, and saying, for example, that two weeks is sufficient and good behavior is sufficient isn’t really suitable for everyone.

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24 Answers

mrlaconic's avatar

You have two cards in play with this question. The first you pointed out: All criminals are not the same. The second: Not all crimes are the same.

I don’t have a solid answer because one thing I have come to accept is that human beings are deceptive creatures and can put on that Mask of good behavior, get let out, and then they strike again in society.

troubleinharlem's avatar

@mrlaconic : Yeah… the whole born evil concept. I get what you’re saying.

ANef_is_Enuf's avatar

I agree with what @mrlaconic said. It is really difficult to put a solid time frame on this, because it depends very much on the individual and on the crime.

I also feel like our correctional facilities need a new approach if we are really going to rehabilitate the incarcerated. In many cases, prison makes the problem worse. It is a hostile environment, often encouraging (in some cases almost forcing) prisoners to engage in more illegal activity than they might have in the free world. As much as I’d like to see “bad” people receive proper punishment for their crimes, I can’t help but feel like a rehabilitative approach would be better. Not sure how we would do that exactly, but it sounds good, eh?

mrlaconic's avatar

@troubleinharlem I don’t know that I necessarily agree with “Born Evil”. But how you are raised, where you are raised can play into it. Take for example that move “The Town” which is based on a true story: One town in Boston that has produced more bank robbers then anywhere else in the world. We are a corrupt species… and the way our world is built supports personal gain at any cost.

LuckyGuy's avatar

Prisons do not rehabilitate. At least that’s what we heard from our family friend who was in prison for statutory rape (21 or over having sex with under 17). He said the programs they put everyone through are nothing that prepare you for the outside. He was “lucky”. He was let out early for good behavior. He has a house and family to return to. His boss wanted him back to work as soon as possible. He started working the week after he was let out. Other guys have nothing. How can they get employement if they have never used a computer? They can’t do online searches for jobs. In this market, who will hire an ex-con when there are so many unemployed people with degrees? Who would you hire?
He thought he could easily be teaching a computer class while inside but he was not allowed to communicate with others unless at certain times. He also said until this experience he thought all criminals were scum and would best be used ground up for dog food. Now he (and we) think otherwise. He mentioned it does not take long for the prisoners themselves to know who is safe and honest and those that are dangerous and not trustworthy. There are some you would never let out. There are others who should be let out but with a monitor. Others could be let out with the knowledge that if they fail a weekly random drug test they will go back.
It is obvious who fits what category. It is the description of the categories that is difficult.
A judge (I should know the name ) said something like: “It is hard to describe pornography. But, I know it when I see it.” Same with prisoners. Live with them for a month and you know who is safe to release and who is not. Ask any Corrections Officer.

CMaz's avatar

Between bad wiring and institutionalizing. Even after they do the time.
Odds are they will go back to the free hots and a cot.

Hobbes's avatar

I agree with everyone who has pointed out that the prison system is not effective. I would offer the idea of restorative justice as a possible alternative.

@worriedguy – My favorite definition of pornography is “anything you lose interest in immediately after ejaculating”.

CMaz's avatar

The problem with restorative justice is it cost more to execute.
No one wants to invest in the prison system.
And, the prison system is about making money (just to survive). Not spending it.

IE why IT IS the way it is.

Hobbes's avatar

Well, it seems to me that prison systems are a colossal waste of money. It costs $44.96 per day to keep a single person incarcerated. Restorative justice would involve a paradigm shift that would (I think) result in less money being spent on institutions built to imprison people. I think you’re right however that a large part of the problem hinges on the prison system’s main goal being self-perpetuation.

ragingloli's avatar

We do not. We do not know if someone who is acquitted is actually innocent either. That is why there is the principle of in dubio pro reo. A society that values true justice must take that kind of risk.

flutherother's avatar

There are two kinds of people in the world. Criminals and the decent-living majority. To keep crime at bay we simply have to remove the criminals and lock them up permanently.

YARNLADY's avatar

Everyone is born with an EASY button attached to their forehead, and you just push that to find out what they are going to do at every step of their life journey.

Oh, wait, that is just in my fantasy world – in the real world there is absolutely no way to know for sure what any of us are going to do.

zophu's avatar

You can’t be sure. If you can remove most of the incentives, and resolve any actual mental disorders, you can afford a little trust. Programs that help ex-prisoners with medical treatment/education/jobs can help prevent destructive behavior, I guess.

anartist's avatar

When the glove doesn’t fit.

josie's avatar

Most of the ones you should truly fear, never get out.

Trillian's avatar

The topic being discussed here and dismissed so casually is people’s lives. People who for whatever reason lack the skills and resources…gaaahhh! I can’t get into this again. Never mind.
@worriedguy made a good inroad to the problem. The dynamics are far too complex for an easy answer, but tearing down the present penal system and starting over from scratch would be a good beginning.
I just think it is a damn shame that there are so many people out there who will never achieve self-actualization. Worse, they don’t even know that there is so much more to their own potential. They just live and die only having partially lived, and just scratched the surface of their potential.

syzygy2600's avatar

This is one of those topics that has no easy answer.

However, I really really hope we don’t return the “everybody can be rehabilitated” days of the 60’s and 70’s. For truly violent criminals it just doesn’t work. Rodney Alcala served only 34 months in the 70’s for the violent rape of an 8-year old girl, after his release, he may have killed as many as 100 women and potentially be one of the worst serial killers in history.

Rob a bank? Rehabilitate them. But violent criminals and psychopaths will never change, and we need to protect the vulnerable people in society from them.

zophu's avatar

@syzygy2600 So, you think harsh punishment is unnecessary for violent crimes? Simply lifetime quarantine, then?

Because, the only usefulness of harsh punishment would be to deter further violent crimes. But of course, you don’t believe that’s possible. If therapy and healthy environment can’t change a person, how could we expect simple fear to? To cause these unchangeables to suffer would be without purpose and so inhumane.

syzygy2600's avatar

Whats inhumane is allowing a violent rapist of a child – something most human beings would never fathom doing- a chance to go out and do it again. I’m not concerned with whats humane when dealing with violent monsters like that. My concern is for the welfare of innocent people.

To be realistic, these types of people account for less than 1% of people in prison. I’m not against rehabilitation. But for people like Rodney Alcala, they should be locked up forever so they don’t have an opportunity to harm others. Through their own actions and free will, they have proven they don’t deserve to walk among us.

josie's avatar

There are only three types of (felonius) criminals
1. Psychotic defectives who have no clue what they are doing
2. The totally desparate, like Jean Valjean in Les Miserables
3. The people who make a socially unacceptable choice and hope that they are not called to account.

In the first case, modern clinical science can not promise a cure. Until it can, they may not be redeemable.

In the second case, the Western world has seen fit to consider mitigating circumstances and judge accordingly. Often favorably for first time offenders.

In the last case, too bad.
At some point in life, one’s choices actually matter.
Recognizing that fact is not a flaw in the social organization.
Everybody in this group knows that they are flirting with disaster when they commit a crime. They simply hope they will get away with it. When they are found out, they act as if it is not fair. It is perfectly fair. Sorry they have a tough time when they get out. They should not have put themselves at risk in the first place.

Hobbes's avatar

@josie – Are you seriously trying to divide all human beings who commit crimes into three neat categories? Life isn’t that simple, people’s decisions and motivations aren’t that simple, and the effects of those decisions can’t be squared away into “acceptable” and “unacceptable”.

You assume that laws accurately reflect what society as a whole finds “unacceptable”, and that a society can even come to a unanimous agreement about what is and is not acceptable behavior. You assume that the courts are much more understanding of “mitigating circumstances” than they actually are. For the most part, judges don’t care whether you were desperate. You assume that all people have equal access to fair legal process, when in fact it has much to do with the quality of lawyer you can afford. Finally, you assume that punitive measures are the best response to a criminal acts in general. I would argue that it is more important to see to the needs of the victims and address the causes of a criminal act than it is to punish the criminal. The only benefit to punishment that I can see is fear, and I do not believe fear is an effective way to manage a society in the long term.

josie's avatar

I’m real serious.
Laws are the only way that “society” can define what is acceptable or not acceptable. Certainly, society changes, and laws change, but at any given moment, laws are the only clue what “society” expects of it’s participants.
I make none of your proposed “assumptions”.
I only know that there are two choices. Enjoy the benefits of a division of labor society, or everybody live alone like Thoreau on Waldon Pond. Since there are clear benefits to a division of labor society, and few opportunities for the reclusive, most people choose the former. At that point, there is a clear compromise -accept the laws that society promulgates.
You do not like some of them. I do not either. We can always lobby to change them. We may or may not succeed.
But in the meantime, you live by them or not.
I assume you probably do. I bet you are not brave enough to defy them and face the consequences as a matter of principle.
But at least you get to enjoy the benefits of one of our laws, which is you can bitch and not get into trouble.
So that is a good thing.

Hobbes's avatar

Do you consider what I’m doing “bitching”? I think if you supported the spirit of the constitution you are upholding, you would respect criticism of our society and government.

You like false dichotomies, it seems. Why do you think those are the only two choices? Do you not think there might be some space between those possibilities?

I think laws are abstract, and no set of laws can ever accurately reflect what the entire population of a country finds “acceptable”, because the population will never even come close to agreeing on something so nebulous and subjective. In fact, when trying to figure out what should be done about any specific harmful behavior, I don’t think it matters whether the behavior is deemed acceptable by society. I think what matters is how the needs of the victims can be best addressed and how similar harmful actions can be prevented in the future. I don’t think that punishment through incarceration is effective at addressing either of these concerns.

Pazza's avatar

Untill we learn to read thoughts we’ll never know.
Untill then, theres always outlawry.

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