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We Should Change the Way We Treat Criminals and Ex-convicts

by Yolando B. Adams

In most parts of the world, committing a crime will paint you as an outcast. You’ll face society’s contempt, which can be worse than the punishment for your crime. In some cases, though, being an outcast is beneficial, mainly if your offense was heinous and you were therefore considered a danger to society. But surprisingly, not all people think that treating criminals — even the most dangerous ones — as outcasts are the right way to deal with them.

Treat Criminals

While they believe in justice and making criminals pay for their wrongdoing, they regard them as human beings. Someone with dignity and rights. As such, they deserve a chance to change and return to society. But how are we going to do that with violent and unrepentant criminals?

The Truth About Imprisonment and Harsh Punishment

Jailing people makes sense. It would be reckless to let a dangerous criminal roam freely. However, imprisonment only has short-term effects. It prevents the offender from committing another crime, at least against the people outside their cell. It’s also supposed to make the offender reflect on their wrongdoing. At best, it would stroke the offender’s conscience, transforming them into renewed individuals after serving their time. But does imprisonment encourage that?

Studies say otherwise. In research involving 110,000 convicts of violence-related felonies, the researchers found only a slight decrease in crime from those sent to prison compared to those who only got probation. When the offenders were released, they were just as likely to re-offend as those who received probationary sentences. The data revealed that imprisonment did not serve as an effective crime deterrent. Hence, law enforcement authorities are urged to reconsider the purposes of prison sentences. The researchers also noted that putting people behind bars is costlier than probation.

Will Shorter Prison Sentences Work?

By any means, imprisonment isn’t being discouraged. But researchers and concerned society members strongly doubt that it’s as effective as policymakers make it appear. To stress their point, they urge us to look at the more lenient laws on crime, such as Switzerland’s. In comparison to other countries, Switzerland tends to impose shorter prison sentences. Only offenders and heinous criminals are put behind bars.

Severe physical injury, for example, is only given six months to ten years of incarceration in Switzerland. But in China and Russia, that offense could even lead to capital punishment.

Criminal law expert Hans-Gorg Koch explains the shorter prison sentences in Switzerland. He says that authorities in Germany and Switzerland want to avoid imposing lengthy penalties, as offenders tend to become more prominent criminals inside the prison.

While not all Swiss people believe that short prison sentences are effective, there’s no evidence suggesting otherwise, according to renowned Swiss criminologist and criminal lawyer Martin Killias. In addition, the average length of a prison stay only plays a minor role in the effect of punishment, according to Gabriella Matefi, president of the Court of Appeal in Basel, Switzerland.

How Should We Treat Offenders and Ex-Convicts?

Criminals aren’t born. They are made. Often, their criminal mind is a result of their circumstances, upbringing, or trauma. As such, imprisonment and contempt from society only trigger their violence or misdeed. What they need to change is to root out whatever’s causing them to commit crimes.

As ordinary people, criminals can also be victims of depression and other mental health problems. For that reason, cognitive behavioral therapy is seen as a more effective way to treat criminals. Forms of treatment are already used for offenders in the U.S. and Europe.

And it’s working better than lengthy prison sentences or any other harsh punishment. Researchers have established that cognitive treatment programs can reduce recidivism by 25% to 35%. If more criminals are put to therapy instead of jails, taxpayers can save $31,286 per inmate per year on average. It will also create safer neighborhoods, communities, families, and workplaces.

Working Together to Prevent Crime

Though it’s good to believe that criminals can change, some of them are irredeemable. Some may also be more prone to relapse than others. Their likelihood to re-offend depends on different factors, but their environment plays a significant role in it. If they’re kept in a place where they learned to commit crimes, they might fall back to old habits and repeat the same cycle of crime and imprisonment.

They say it takes a village to raise a child. Society should also work as a whole to make the world a more accepting place for past offenders. When flashing police light bars are seen in a community again, it shouldn’t indicate crime but another emergency that won’t cause anyone to be an outcast. In other words, ex-convicts do not deserve to be feared anymore when they get released or after they receive therapy. If we welcome them back to society, they will be more encouraged to become law-abiding citizens.

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