There’s an interesting article in the NYT about former prisoners and the operation of what used to be termed “halfway houses.” Underlying the entire article is the assumption that we want our former prisoners to do well– to succeed upon release, to integrate back into the community– and that this is why these places exist. But clear, too, is that many either don’t think about it at all, or would actively “lock them up and throw away the key”– as attested by the fact that the house at issue is bare-bones in the extreme. These folks are operating their whole-hearted attempt at helping their fellows reintegrate on a shoestring, frayed along its length. It brought to mind an argument they were having on my favorite morning radio show– one exceptional for the lack of information with which they were arguing, and the narrow sights on which they were trained.
When I was a law clerk, our state enacted a law designed to “civilly commit” people who had been convicted of sex crimes, and who were about to be released from prison. Yep, let me say that again. They had done their time, under the sentence imposed by the judge within the range set by the Legislature. You know, the Legislature we the people elected? And some of these folks were being released early, again under a good behavior early parole scheme approved by the Legislature. However, the People were Shocked, Shocked! to discover the following: if you warehouse a sex offender in prison and make no attempt to educate him, counsel him, provide him with the therapy to allow him to learn to keep his illegal urges to himself, then, GASP!, he might do it again once you release him. Of course, rather than just institute a system-wide sex offender counseling program in the prisons, they enacted a whole new, more expensive system to make the public think they were concerned about public safety, and consume immeasurable time and money wending through even more court procedures. They would get the guy all ready for release, and then, oops, you’re maybe a sexually dangerous person, stay locked up for another 6-8 months while we pay off some state psychiatrist who’s looked at your records for 10 minutes to say you still have a “propensity” to commit sex crimes. Bull.Shit. This Misbegotten Abomination of a “Law” was upheld by some republican-appointed judges, and it stands today. And no one wants a sex offender in their neighborhood. But it’s easy to back track from sex offenders, folks. First it’s murderers, then it’s drunk drivers– all locked up indefinitely because they “might” do it again (even though the state doesn’t bother to quantify the likelihood, or be at all scientific about it.)
So tell me this– if no one wants a sex offender in their neighborhood, then where are they supposed to live? If everyone believes that every sex offender/murderer/batterer/drunk driver is incapable of remorse, of guilt, of change, then what is their incentive to work toward those goals, necessary to successful social reintegration? And, by paying attention to only the registered sex offenders, what lessons are we failing to teach our kids about being wise around all strangers, and about being wise about their own bodies, their own bravery? Or have you forgotten the stories you’ve heard about “it went on for years before they caught him?”
Jesus hung out with prostitutes and tax collectors. He forgave a murderer, whilst suffering on the cross, beside him. Forgiveness, sternness, vigilance– do you think they can run together during the rehabilitative course?
Update: You’ve left some great comments and asked some important questions, including the hard truth that there are some people who may not be interested in being rehabilitated. I am more than willing to concede that there are some who won’t even try– but I remain concerned that we don’t even give people the chance to try and refuse, or fail. And for the truly unreformable? Well, let’s have some honesty in the sentencing process up front, rather than try to fix it at the back door, when people are being released early due to prison overcrowding, due in no small part to the (blah blah insert liberal bias here) war on non-violent offenders and marijuana possessors of less than a kilo.